Back In The Day/Musings

Hindsight isn’t 20-20 – it might need bifocals…

Posted by Skafish on

Author’s Note: Club Foot is now closed.

On Friday, April 18 2008, Glinda Harrison, was emailing the Chicago Sun Times back and forth all afternoon.  Weeks ago, the paper had offered to do a feature story on me and my new CD:  “What’s This? 1976-1979,” which was released April 1, 2008.  I had an extensive and very pleasant interview with the writer, Jeff Johnson and the feature story first appeared on line Thursday, April 17, 2008 and in their print newspaper the next day on Friday.

As I was reading the story, I started noticing wrong dates and misstated facts (oh, no, not again – I was hoping I was hallucinating) — How I wish people would just get the facts right.  Especially in Chicago today, many people seem to not really have their facts correct regarding the birth of the Chicago punk scene:  correct dates, being historically accurate and stating what physically happened back in the day.

Chuck Uchida, who owns Club Foot, a club in Chicago that is dedicated to keeping it real and telling it like it was and is, told me that he refuses to speak with anyone anymore who claims to be doing a documentary or story about Chicago punk.  He recently shared with me how every single interview he has ever given about the scene was never quoted accurately or anywhere near correctly.  So he gave up.

There isn’t enough room in this writing to list the inaccurate stories that are told and sold today as factual, accurate and worst of all, historical regarding the beginning of Chicago punk.  The word ”history” is supposed to be synonymous with being factual, so there is a strong implication of accuracy that is always associated with that magic pill word “history.”   However, that just isn’t true in today’s climate of Chicago revisionist history where people just say whatever.

Let me say, that I completely differentiate between fact and opinion.  People can debate, argue, pontificate all millennium long till they’re dead on arrival blue in the face about who’s great and who sucks, etc.  That is their opinion!  But, to state wrong dates, leave out actual events that happened and attempt to rewrite history sold as fact, is completely another matter.

Here are the differences between the actual facts and what The Sun Times reported:

Sun Times story: Indicated more than one time that Skafish first appeared on the musical scene in 1979.
Fact: I debuted in Chicago in February 1976 and had already toured the United States, received international press coverage and was releasing my first record by 1979.

Sun Times story: I was the second US artist ever to be signed to IRS Records.
Fact: I was the first US artist ever to be signed to IRS Records and the second artist worldwide to ever be signed to the record label.

Sun Times story: My new CD features three late 70’s sessions.
Fact: My new CD features three sessions from the mid to late 70’s: August 1976, October 1977 and July/August 1978.

So after the continual stream of emails between the paper and us on Friday afternoon, April 18, 2008, the paper did change these inaccuracies and corrected them in their online version of the story, and I deeply thank them for that.  Their professionalism is something rarely scene in today’s Chicago climate.  However, they weren’t willing to issue a correction in their print version, as they didn’t feel that their errors were substantive enough to require one.  This is how false information often gets out there.  It is posted or printed somewhere, therefore, it is assumed as fact by everyone reading or hearing it.  It then seeps into the collective consciousness and people absorb it and parrot it.

The film You Weren’t There, claims to be a history of Chicago punk from 1977-1984.  Here was an opportunity for filmmaker Joe Losurdo to tell the world the actual truth and showcase what really happened back in the day in Chicago accurately.  I haven’t seen the film, but I can certainly share with you the facts as they pertain to me and what actually occurred.

The first rule of history is that you attempt to contact the people who were actually there at the time the historical events occurred if they’re still alive.  Since it is a simple fact that Skafish was performing in Chicago before any punk acts were on the scene at all, dating back to February 1976, it would be common sense for the filmmaker to contact me first.

In fact, there were no other Chicago punk acts on the scene till around the spring of 1977, which was over a year after I first debuted in Chicago.  By that time, Skafish had already:

  • Debuted in Chicago in February 1976
  • Performed in Northwest Indiana in the Summer of 1976
  • Recorded what are considered to be the first Chicago punk recordings ever, done in August 1976 (Now featured on my new CD “What’s This? 1976-1979”).
  • Performed a two month Chicago area club tour in the fall on 1976.
  • Caused a riot of 6,000 people opening for Sha Na Na at Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater on February 4, 1977, which received national press coverage.
  • Performed at CBGB’s in New York on April 12 and 13, 1977, which received national press coverage.

Since I wasn’t ever drunk or high, and didn’t let me band drink or get high ever, my band and I have crystal (not meth) clear memories of everything that happened then, LOL!  I could have offered the filmmaker a point of view as to how the Chicago scene came into being that no one else could – as no other performers were yet on the scene.

However, for whatever his reasons were, the Filmmaker did not make any attempt to contact me whatsoever until after he was 7 years into the project and almost ready to begin editing.  (And I am quite easy to contact.  Just Google my name and my website comes up first.  Go to the website’s contact form and send an email).  He first contacted me in the spring of 2007, where he only wanted to interview me regarding one single subject – the dance club La Mere Vipere.   I was actually surprised that he wasn’t interested in asking me about my early punk performances and the history of what truly happened back then.  And on such short notice, I wasn’t able to rearrange my schedule, as I was working on the “What’s This? 1976-1979” project myself.  Next, in September of 2007, he contacted me again, wanting to potentially use my song Disgracing The Family Name in the film.  My vice president Glinda Harrison told him that we would absolutely consider letting him use the song for free, but we needed to see the segments on Skafish in the film to verify the information for historical accuracy.  He promised to rush out a DVD to us, which he never sent.

Then, his film debuted in November 2007, where Skafish is only briefly mentioned:  not musically, not historically, but only in reference of all things – to the dance club La Mere Vipere, which I had nothing to do with creating.  Plus, La Mere Vipere was a very popular club and there are countless people out there who could talk about that.  According to a review of the film in the Chicago Reader, the film credits Tu Tu and The Pirates as the first Chicago punk band.  Funny, they used to open shows for me…like the changing of the seasons, see how history just keeps changing, lol.

The filmmaker also acknowledged to Glinda that he didn’t know how much had gone on in the early days.  So why not attempt to find out the truth?  I completely respect anyone’s right to say anything – but once you put the title of “history” on it, then there becomes a different threshold: one that needs objective, dispassionate and complete reporting.

There is an online punk Wiki called The Chicago Punk Database, where the Skafish entries are filled with inaccuracies.  Interestingly, earlier Skafish entries on this database were more accurate. Before, it stated that I did start the Chicago punk movement, and that I was the longest running Chicago punk artist – both of which are true.  Then, in the fall of 2007, out of the blue, I noticed that the accurate information had been replaced by completely inaccurate postings.  It is stated on the site to just edit as much as you want – so anyone can literally say anything?!?!?  So as revisionist history becomes perceived as objective fact, this data base changes however it fits people’s fancy.  Here, I would like to clarify the misconceptions about me, which once again are posted as fact:

Chicago Punk Database (as of this writing): Skafish first played CBGB’s in 1978.
Fact: Skafish first played CBGB’s in April 1977, then again in December 1977.

Chicago Punk Database (as of this writing): Skafish performed from 1976 to 1985.
Fact: Skafish performed consistently in Chicago and internationally, from February 1976 through October 1, 1994. These performances involved four separate bands, and the controversial Skafish solo show.

Chicago Punk Database (as of this writing): Skafish was not “Sonically” punk.
Fact: Skafish was “Sonically” punk, which is easily provable. If my work wasn’t “Sonically” punk, I would have never toured and / or performed with such first generation punk icons as Iggy Pop, The Ramones and The Stranglers, appeared in one of the most legendary punk / new wave concert films of all time, Urgh! A Music War, and also performed twice at CBGB’s in New York in 1977. Sid Vicious came to specifically see me perform in New York, which was his last public event. I wouldn’t have been there if I was just some weirdo fringe performance artist lunatic – I was there because I belonged there…Oops, maybe it was just for my good looks, lol!

Does the person or persons who posted these Chicago punk database Wiki entries know more about musical analysis than Cheap Trick, and music industry legend Miles Copeland who have both acknowledged that I started the Chicago punk movement?  Is he, she, or they a musicologist?  What does this person(s) know about the “sonic” aspects of punk? Who are they and what are their credentials?

So as the false information spreads, I hear “history” stated that doesn’t even take into account anything that happened in Chicago in 1976.  Why?  Because these people may have not been there.  So let’s disregard that time period, because so many people want to pretend that it is their scene.  If they were there in 1977, it all began in 1977.  I actually read different bands claiming to be among the first Chicago punk acts ever as late as 1980.  1980?  The scene had already morphed several times by then!  It’s also funny how I’ve been reduced to being a quirky little eccentric performance artist by some…I have devoted every day of my life since I was 6 years old to being the best musician, songwriter and singer that I could be.  Who I am on stage is just me being me; no theatrical training at all – in fact, I learned to dance avoiding things being thrown at me by audiences, LOL!

So you might ask why is so much inaccurate information out there in Chicago?  There are several reasons:
1) – Things get inaccurately stated in many forums: Print media, documentaries, online, etc and people just absorb it as fact and pass it on, without thinking about it or questioning the historical accuracy of the information.  And it may not be done with any negative intent toward anyone at all.

2) – Many are ignorant of the facts and it takes actual work and a dispassionate approach to really do the research correctly, so it’s easier to just say what you want and present inaccurate information, versus factual truth.

3) – People want to portray the truth as it suits them emotionally.  If they like an artist, well then that artist can be acknowledged.  Many people back then as well as still today within the Chicago punk scene were too put off by Skafish.  I call it “Conforming to non-conformity.”  There’s acceptable punk with all of its clichés and predictabilities, and then there’s Skafish.

So if you don’t happen to like someone who is too “out there” like me, just write them off, marginalize them in a little corner and simply dismiss them.  Recently, writer Jake Austen offered an interesting perspective in a story he wrote about my new CD in the magazine Time Out Chicago on April 3, 2008.  The title, “Jim Skafish was too punk for Chicago,” suggests that what I did back then went too far aesthetically for what the Chicago punk scene could handle.

5) – According to rock legends Cheap Trick who were at my shows from the beginning, the problem was that other bands in Chicago were too envious of Skafish, because I set the musical bar so high that no one else in Chicago could top it.  I have no idea it that is true or not – I was busy fearing for my safety and my life at the time, LOL!  Plus, I don’t feel completive with other artists – I support them and try to help them achieve their dreams.

So in the spirit of truth, let’s here from just a few people who WERE there and what they have to say about all of this:

* Cheap Trick, one of the most famous rock bands in Chicago history, wrote the liner notes for my new CD, “What’s This? 1976-1979.”  They said in April 2007: “Unpredictable, over the top, with life or death conviction and reckless abandon, Skafish created Punk, New Wave and Alternative Rock in Chicago.”

* Miles Copeland is one of the most significant international figures to the birth of punk, new wave, alternative and indie rock of all time.  Beside booking the Sex Pistols on their first ever European tour, being the first to bring such artists as Blondie, Wayne County, Patti Smith, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, John Cale and Television to the UK, Copeland founded one of the most important record companies regarding punk, new wave, alternative and indie rock of all time, the now legendary IRS Records. Miles has worked with such legends as Sting and The Police, REM and the Go-Go’s to name a few.

In January 2008, Miles said: “Jim Skafish was one of the geniuses I thought I could give to the world, but the world wasn’t ready!  As a pioneer, innovator and someone who was just too hard to classify, I realize now that all he did way back then was what the musical world would eventually become.  He helped put Chicago on the map as the pioneer of Punk and New Wave there and on the international stage, gave audiences a really insane ride.”

* Bob Kurson, formerly a feature writer for The Chicago Sun-Times, whose stories have appeared in Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine, and is now a contributing editor to Esquire, wrote in the Sunday, August 11th, 1996 issue of The Chicago Sun-Times, in an article entitled, Spirit Lives on for Chicago Punk Pioneers:

“Jimmy Skafish broke punk in Chicago in 1976 during an audition night at the now-defunct B’Ginnings nightclub in Schaumburg.  Wearing an old ladies one-piece bathing suit and a purple page boy haircut, Skafish sprinkled the crowd with holy water while spewing bilious, fury-driven songs that terrified the entirely unsuspecting crowd.  It was the first of countless performances at which the audience would literally desire to kill the outrageous singer, but it was also the birth of punk in Chicago….”

If  I was worried about popularity, I would have never been able to do what I did and am still doing.  (People use to tell me to get a nose job and boobs reduction – no kidding!!!!)  I take great pride in knowing that even portions of the Chicago punk community couldn’t handle what I did back then and now — not just the mullet shag haircut dudes and dudettes who were diggin’ Frampton, but the supposed hipsters who were just as myopic then as they are now in their lack of acceptance of challenging art.

I don’t care about how people perceive me, but I have always cared about the facts and that they now need to be stated correctly.  Even if I am one of the only people willing to do so, I will make sure to get historically accurate information out there through writing, film, video, interviews, radio, television and commentary to anyone and everyone who cares about knowing the truth.  Chicago is a great city, and deserves better than what it has already been spoon-fed regarding stories and documentaries that don’t portray the past accurately or correctly at all.   Like John Lennon said, “All I want is a little truth!”


No April Fools Joke Here!

Posted by Skafish on

What’s This CD coverThe new SKAFISH CD, What’s This? 1976-1979 is officially released today, April 1, 2008. I remember when someone emailed me weeks ago on My Space and asked me if this new release just might be my little diabolical April Fool’s Joke! I sent back a strong no, no, no — of course not! I wouldn’t play with anyone that way!

Today, this very day of April 1, 2008, over thirty-two years after I first made my Chicago debut, this brand new CD, What’s This? 1976-1979 is finally released to all of you. Imagine how it might feel to be like a mommy in some sort of convoluted alien baby labor for over thirty-two years – that’s how I’ve felt: “The baby is going to come – it’s stuck – it hurts – it’s missing – there is NO baby — I’m gonna die…

Then, oh My God, my little extra terrestrial CD baby is being born! Look, the finished product is so very transcendent of the limitations of time and space and the physical plane and so, so beautiful — YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And no post partum depression!

First, a huge thanks and gift of gratitude to all of you out there who have pre ordered the CD – It is great to know that beings are out there who are tuned into this frequency and listening.

It has been a highly emotional experience for me, from the first recording session of August 1976, to finding the last master tape in October 2006, to finally seeing it dropped from the divine heavens to the world today! The strangest things spontaneously cause me to react; veering from elation to tears in seconds – especially hearing the track No Liberation Here, the end section of Work Song where the fantastic guitar playing of Larry Mazalan and Karen Winner explodes into high gear – the final vocal section of Tattle Tale and the entire track of There’s A World, to name a few.

Since it is my money and my record company, I was going to do it right: a 36 page booklet, 6 panel digi pack, 16 photos, most of which have never been seen, a great drawing of me behind the CD tray, the delightful Skafish baby as the record company logo and my spoken commentaries to set the record straight.

A huge surprise for me was when rock legends Cheap Trick (who really WERE there from my first shows), agreed to write the liner notes! Their manager told me that in the 9 years he has managed them, they never agreed to do anything like that before! Keep in mind, Cheap Trick, who are way more famous than I am, have absolutely nothing to gain by writing these liner notes, which they were not paid for – except to tell the truth as it really was, which is something that has been sorely missing in the current climate of Chicago’s revisionist history.

Since my band had not heard these recordings for such a long time, their reactions were also highly emotional – from tears to elation to great pride that we did it our way – in the midst of physical attacks, rejection, being mocked, criticized and made fun of, we stuck to out guns, even when a gun was being pointed at us, LOL!

I’m on really good terms with everyone who performed on this record, and I originally promised them that I would represent what we did in an unvarnished, unaltered and of course, uncensored way! (No clean versions here!) All of the band has been quite pleased with the results and final packaging, which means a great deal to me. Besides them, I wanted to make sure that Cheap Trick and their manager Dave Frey were OK with the way I put the project together and featured their liner notes – and they were also elated. Also, it was important to me what Glinda Harrison, my former manager Scott Cameron and Miles Copeland thought. When I sent an advance copy of the CD earlier this year to Miles Copeland and called him, he told me, “You’re one of the few geniuses I have ever met.” These are the only people whose opinions really matter to me as they were and are still like family to me. I am so glad the project didn’t disappoint any of them.

Whatever happens from here and whatever anyone thinks or says about it all is quite fine by me. This has been a very difficult journey for all involved in the SKAFISH project – the poverty, violent reactions, dreams that never came true back in the day and the sense that these recordings would never be found and ever see the light of day (as they were all lost before).

From a spiritual perspective, things have a way of working themselves out in exactly the way they are supposed to and I am just overjoyed that this project is finally born – today! We may have never got what we wanted back then, but instead, received what we needed — the learning experience with all it taught us in a tremendously deep, profound, and life altering way – both artistically and as people. When most kids were getting drunk and high, dating and discovering sex, my band and I were rehearsing constantly and brutally, and trying to travel throughout the United States, and conquer the world through our shocking new musical and live performance aesthetic, LOL. For the experience, insight, depth and camaraderie that was shared and all we went through — both good and bad, I am deeply moved, appreciative and eternally thankful.

Tips for Musicians

It’s Mine and You Can’t Have It!

Posted by Skafish on

The music business is a most certainly complex and dirty business, to say the least and as time has gone on, it has gotten far worse and harder to navigate through. With illegal downloading being estimated by industry experts to be four times the amount of legal downloading, most artists (especially newer ones) can’t make any money from their art. Since even artists have to pay rent (debunking that romantic myth that artists don’t need money to live on), let’s face it, if you can’t make a living from your art, you’ll have to do something else to put food on the table.

With major record labels bleeding like being hit by multiple gunshot rounds, record companies have found new ways to exploit artists even more than before (if you can even imagine that!). This new trend is what are called 365 degree deals – where the label not only owns the recordings, they get their hands on your publishing, a piece of your touring income and merchandising, etc. Every penny the artist makes will have the paws of the record label taking a piece of it. With CD sales collapsing, the music industry is in a downward spiral free for all.

Since there is no formal education or legal requirements to be in the music business, it can be like flying a high-speed airplane in pitch darkness with blinders on, especially in this time period. With most professions, there is a pathway that needs to be followed and adhered to. When becoming a doctor, the studies and requirements are quite clear and literal as to what it takes to be a practicing physician. Since no such parameters exist within the music business, it becomes about power – often a vulgar display of it. Whether in the music business or society in general, the biggest always wins. Just like the most dominant guys intimidate the smaller guys in high school, the entity with the biggest bucks gobbles up the smaller people and independent enterprises.

Through their seemingly unlimited deep pockets, corporations can push their products, artists or ventures in ways the smaller companies and independent people just don’t have the power and money to do. Predictably, with large companies such as the major record labels, the terms they subject their artists to in most instances are comparable to sweat shop labor. Unless you’re a huge artist with a battery of top gun lawyers, the terms of your record deal will probably suck and smell like doggie doo-doo.

Consider this: Lisa Lopez of the group TLC had openly stated on VH1 that her group’s blockbuster album Crazy Sexy Cool had sold 10 million copies. I thought to myself, good for her! I started mentally drifting and hoping that she invests her money well and makes good choices for her future so she doesn’t ever have to play a Holiday Inn if her career declined…WAIT! STOP!

As I was thinking these warm and fuzzy thoughts, I almost fell out of my chair when she then stated that she made a total—a grand total mind you— of 50 thousand dollars from those 10 million copies sold. Most people barely live on 50 thousand dollars a year, yet alone 50 thousand dollars divided over the several years it took to sell this album. What she made from an enormously successful album seemed to be less than minimum wage! Plus, this was the time when CDs were selling for about $15.00 to $20.00 a pop. It’s staggering to think that this record probably grossed somewhere upwards of 150 million dollars and she got her piddly little dinky 50 grand.

So who pigged out on the pie? Of course, the record company did. I remember Lisa doing her little math lesson on VHI: After several millions of dollars spent to pay for the videos, recouping recording costs, marketing and packaging expenses, and all other costs, (maybe Kleenex tissues for the assistant to the record company president), that leaves their artist royalty which was somewhere between 6% to 9%, split three ways between the three group members.  Out of that artist’s share, don’t forget that management takes their commission too.  So viola! What’s left is that chump change amount of 50 grand. Just as in most instances, the record label owns the actual record, therefore, makes the most money from it while also having the control over what is done with it! It’s pretty easy to understand if you think of it this way: Look at a house. If you want to know who profits from the sale of the house and who controls what is done with it, just ask yourself, “Who owns it?”

How kind of them though, to never forget those ever so amusing little acrobatic performing monkeys known as the artists. After all, they contributed just a smidgen to this success so there will be a tiny little flake of crust after the pie has been wolfed down just for them! Forget all of the BS you see in videos: Luxury cars, yachts, mansions, jewelry…For most artists, it’s an illusion. Whoever owns the record profits the most. In this instance: It’s mine (the record company’s) and you (the artist) can’t have it!

You might ask, “Why don’t artists know better or set up more positive deals for themselves?” First, most artists enter into these deals when they are very young and truly don’t know any better. With the obsessive hunger and thirst to “make it,” artists lose sight of the reality of what they’re getting themselves into: Signing your rights away in perpetuity and entering into rotten deals where one gets totally ripped off forever, all for the illusive and poisonous carrot of fame.

With all of the famous artists I have worked with and / or have known, my strong sense is that artists as a whole who work in the music business full time (meaning their livelihood is completely generated by their art), hardly have a clue as to what this business is really all about. Let’s face it – most artists, especially young ones don’t want to talk about quarterly, semi annual and annual accounting, international intellectual property rights, the various income streams collected through publishing money and the complexities of a record contract…(Doesn’t it even sound laborsome just reading it?) There is a sense that being an artist is cool while dealing with the business is un-cool. After all, how many really edgy and unusual looking accountants have you ever met? (LOL)

Think of it this way, though. Could you imagine working for a company and not knowing the amount of your salary, how, when or why you might get paid, if you had health insurance benefits and a pension for retirement, etc? In this context, it sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? But do artists really seriously ask these questions of their management, accountants and record companies and follow through to learn the ropes of their industry? Quite doubtful…Yet, every artist needs to seriously inquire about everything and diligently study their business. As Mick Jagger, one of the most famous living rock artists, stated; “If you don’t watch your business, you’ll get ripped off.”

Here’s a little example: A former accountant of Sting stole 9 million dollars from him, yet while this theft was occurring, Sting had no idea this was even going on. Imagine that Sting himself had no awareness this was happening! However, there is a semi-happy ending to the story though, as the accountant was eventually found out by someone else which lead to a prosecution – but could you imagine not knowing you had 9 million dollars missing!?

I myself remember not wanting to really deal with contracts and the like when I first unleashed my shocking new style of performance in Chicago when I was a teenager. How boring? Numbers…Clauses…Percentages…YUK!!!

What interested me was not the business side of things, but the obsessive all consuming desire to get my message out there and change the world. (LAM=Laughing At Myself!) Playing more forcefully and aggressively that anyone prior, chaining ourselves together in public, scaring some suburban housewives, getting authentic blessed Catholic holy water from a religious supply store. Now that’s worth time and energy! (Forgive me father for I have sinned. I was just a post-teenage hermaphrodite, as one journalist so eloquently put it, HA HA!)

But throughout over three decades in the music business, I have learned about it, not because I ever wanted to, but because I had to. I have been ripped off too many times to mention here and I don’t mean to state that in any kind of a self pitying way. It has just been part of the journey, a learning experience and I deal with it in the best way I can.

Here are just a few examples: All kinds of bootleggers have tried to sell the movie I was in, Urgh! A Music War for up to $80.00 a DVD copy, illegally. All the while they keep claiming that they are really just so about punk, when in reality, they are really just so about their profit – not about punk at all. A nice little cozy cottage industry of running off cheap DVD’s which cost the bootleggers about a buck, maybe – then marking it up to as high as $80.00 a DVD, plus don’t forget, the buyer pays for shipping and handling on top of it?!?!? They have absolutely no right to make a dime from something they had nothing to do with creating on an artistic or business level.

On top of all of that, my song, She’s Taking Her Love Away from my album Conversation mysteriously appeared in a made for TV movie in 1995 starring Tori Spelling called Coed Call Girl. I had no knowledge that this actually occurred until a few years ago. I even had two separate musical groups in England try to call themselves SKAFISH. So yes, I’ve had to learn to take care of business. In this instance: It’s mine (Jimmy’s) and you (people trying to rip me off) can’t have it!

As these two different UK groups tried to hijack my name, the question should be posed, what is the value of a name? It’s like asking, how much equity is in your home? If you own a 150 million dollar mansion, there’s a lot of equity in that home. That’s comparable to the value of a name like Elvis. If you own a 75 thousand dollar house, there’s some equity in that property and that’s more analogous to the value of a lesser-known artist’s name. However, never forget that the name is always worth something.

When Tina Turner divorced Ike Turner, the one thing she wanted was to keep her name – to be able to still be known as Tina Turner as a performer and she ended up achieving this. The Jackson 5 had legal issues with their record company and had to modify their name to simply be The Jacksons. Grand Funk Railroad got into some dispute with their manager and through a lawsuit, had to drop Railroad and simply became Grand Funk. In recent years, The Doors fought over being able to perform as The Doors featuring a new singer and after legal action, were no longer able to do so.

However, John Lydon was not allowed to use his stage name Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistols broke up back in the day, because their manger or his enterprises owned the name Johnny Rotten. It’s scary to think that a name an artist may have used, created, or one that he or she may have even been born with can suddenly not be theirs to use professionally anymore. Here we see: It’s mine (whoever legally owns the name) and you (whoever doesn’t have legal ownership of the name) can’t have it!

With the advent of the Internet, which of course is here to stay, rights and ownership have become a free for all. (You may not be able to fathom this, but I actually heard a major record executive recently say that the Internet was a passing fad.) Yes, that’s right – just like the hula-hoop or The Macarena. (LOL) However, the Internet is ever changing. Now, if an artist wishes to cover someone else’s song to sell on the Internet, they must pay up front for the rights to do so – meaning the ability to sell the cover recordings over the Internet via downloads, MP3’s and iTunes, etc.

Recently on the Internet, someone illegally posted a stream of consciousness video cover of my song Where Is James Bond? (When You Really Need Him.) I’ve had many situations where people just cover my songs illegally. Within recent months, a death metal group released a cover of Disgracing The Family Name – illegally, as the group put it out on an internationally released CD without first seeking a license to do so.

A colleague of mine has a musical group who was considering signing a record deal and he asked for my advice. He was surprised that part of the proposed record contract stated that his group could not do any cover songs. He was almost in shock when I told him that you have to pay up to 9.1 cents per song per copy in mechanical royalties. Plus, there are now digital mechanical royalties for selling songs on the Internet. He had no idea! It was obvious that the record label did not want to mess with this costly and complex payment structure to be able to do a cover — legally.

Long before the explosion of the Internet, I remember when sampling first became in vogue in the 1980’s and everyone was stealing everyone’s music (especially the catalogue of James Brown). It seemed to me that a real turning point in establishing a legal precedence regarding sampling occurred around the time when Vanilla Ice sampled David Bowie and Queen’s song Under Pressure for his smash hit Ice Ice Baby. He didn’t pay them for it at all but after he was sued, he had to issue writing and publishing credit to Bowie and Queen and pay them for lifting their song. Since that time period, everyone has had to pay for samples (which is probably why you hear far less samples in rap anymore, because it costs too much to do it and it is far less easy to get away with stealing other’s tracks all the time). Look out sampling technology — Here we see: It’s mine (the person who owns the recording) and you (the sampler) can’t have it!

I would like to share with you a story of a rip off that did have a happy ending for someone who I had a connection with and just adored – someone who included me in the club from the day we met back in the mid 1970’s – a kindred spirit who recognized that he and I were the same before I did — one of the greatest blues artists of all time, the incomparable Willie Dixon! Besides crossing paths with Willie many times, he invited me to his home and frequently referred to me as “The best musician I know.” I adored Willie and often still think of him now that he’s transitioned into spirit.

I’ve known so many pretentious and ego inflated performers. Yet sitting in many rooms with Willie gave me the ability to experience a legend, yet one who was so unaffected, totally real, completely down to earth and natural that is was inspirational for me to be in his presence! Of all people, he deserves to get credit and by all means be paid for his groundbreaking contributions to music.

Back in the day, Willie’s manager sued Led Zeppelin over a claim that the song Whole Lotta Love was ripped off from Willie. I remember Willie’s manager telling me how terrified he was testifying in federal court. Anyway, Willie did win this lawsuit! Part of the terms, though, were that Led Zeppelin wanted this to be kept out of the press. Imagine how it would make them look to be seen as Willie Dixon wanna be rip offs? So just look on any new Led Zeppelin release for the writing credits listed for Whole Lotta Love and you’ll see Willie Dixon’s name listed. What a great victory for someone who was so underrated and underpaid during his physical life!

As I’ve always been willing to share any knowledge I have with anyone if it might help them, it gives me great satisfaction to hope that my experiences may help make someone else’s journey be easier and more fruitful!  Here are two great books to read if you want to learn more about the music business: Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About the Music Business: 6th Edition and Richard Stim’s Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business.

To all of the musicians reading this: DO NOT EVER SELL YOUR RIGHTS AWAY TO A CORPORATION WITH THE HOPE OF “MAKING IT!” Remember that if you sell your rights in this way, you will have no control over what happens to your work, probably forever. Also, have a qualified entertainment attorney go through every single point of every contract you’re considering signing. Yes, it is boring and no, it won’t make you feel like a rock star but be smart and just do it. I do it all the time — it’s like taking out the garbage or fixing lunch; it simply has to be done.

To start with, don’t sell your master recordings to a corporation in perpetuity. If you do, there is a good chance you’ll get screwed. The major label horror stories are too lengthy to mention here, but two important points are worth noting: 1) – If the label doesn’t care to release your record for ANY reason whatsoever, they don’t have to and they won’t. (I’ve had this happen to me with my first and second LPs). If the record company doesn’t feel there’s enough money to be made, or it doesn’t suit their greedy little fancy, your record will just sit there. It’s like signing over the house you so painstakingly built to someone else and they decide they don’t want to live in it or sell it back to you, but they refuse to do anything with it, either. So it just sits there in a Catholic state of limbo, like someone floating aimlessly through the ether for eternity.

2) – If the label owns it, they can and will do anything they want with it. Here is a perfect example: I was speaking with Dave Frey, (the manager of Cheap Trick and The Ramones) a few months ago, and he told me how Cheap Trick’s former label released a compilation record called Mullet Rock and put Cheap Trick right on the cover. OMG!!!! A mullet is un-cooler than leisure suits, bellbottoms, 1980’s Bon Jovi hot chick poof hair, or even heavy metal circa 1980’s macho dude drag queens. You know the type: “I’m wearing lipstick and I may look like a fag, but I’m into booze, coke, pussy and I’ll kick your ass!” LOL, but not with bad intent toward anyone else!

First, Cheap Trick is one of the greatest rock bands of all time, bar none. Could you imagine how they must have felt being featured on a CD cover showcasing one of the most embarrassing aesthetics of modern times? On top of that, fans would show up at Cheap Trick concerts and yell at Dave Frey: “Why did you let them be on this f*****up CD cover? What kind of a manager are you?!” Of course, Dave had nothing to do with it. Never forget, ownership is everything. Who owns the work? The record label does! The record company didn’t call up Frey and say, “Hey Davie, babe, how’d you like a your boys to be on this very cool compilation CD cover called Mullet Rock?” The label didn’t have to ask Cheap Trick if they wanted to be in on this idiotic cover. They just did it!

One little addendum and an important one! If you feel you have to sell your master recordings to a corporation, make sure to at least have a point in the contract where the rights revert back to you, the artist! The group Chicago had a clause in their early contract stating that the rights to their recordings would revert back to them after 25 years. At the time, the label thought that it was no big deal, as if who would care about some band named Chicago 25 years later. Guess what? They’re catalogue is a huge moneymaker now and I say, good for the group Chicago – they deserve it!

It you write songs, I strongly recommend for you to not sell your publishing. Remember, songwriters and publishers spilt the money 50% – 50%. Surprisingly, half of your income being given away is probably not the worst part of it though! It is usually the publisher who OWNS the copyright, which means that the publisher can do anything they want with the song: License it for toilet cleaning commercials, or use it to sell hemorrhoid products if they want to.

Debut LPI gave up part of my publishing back in the 1970’s for two reasons: 1) – I went over the tiny budget I had to make my first record and if I wanted to get the record done and out there, I had to give up half of the publishing on my first LP and 2) – I didn’t know any better at the time, as I had no concept of the amount of potential money and control of my work I was relinquishing. But thank God, I was able to buy it all back. I used to have nightmares of my songs showing up on some goofy “Weirdest punk and new wave songs of all time” CD. Now, at least that won’t happen to me, unless done illegally! Also, if the CDs or downloads of a song don’t sell much, the only other possible money to be made is from the publishing, which is why an artist should not sell the publishing away. I remember hearing how The Black Crowes sold their publishing before they broke big for an infinitesimal five, yes FIVE thousand dollars.

When Michael Jackson bought The Beatles publishing catalogue, he licensed the Beatles message driven classic Revolution for a sneakers commercial. Paul McCartney was understandably not hot so happy about this, but there was nothing he could do about it. Why! Because: It’s mine (the publisher who owns the copyright) and you (the person who actually created the song, just a minor little insignificant factoid) can’t have it!

Regarding your professional name, make sure you have an agreement with any other band members as to who owns it. Whether it is jointly owned or solely by you, trademark the name! I know it sounds oh so un hip, you know, filling out government forms and talking to attorneys, but would you rather not be able to use your name?!?!? Even though my actual birth name is Skafish, I trademarked my name, which may sound strange as it is on my driver’s license, but it allowed me to swat those little flies dead who tried to call their groups SKAFISH.

Go after people who are ripping you off. (What would you do if someone was breaking into your home?) Legally, it can be considered that you have relinquished your rights and your trademarks by not enforcing those rights legally. It’s like when you don’t use your muscles, they disintegrate and turn to worthless mushy flab. Some people will call you a troll, an ogre, a bastard and a monster…I’ve been called all of those things on a regular basis, but why should you care? Never forget, it’s mine (the artist’s) and you (the worthless bootleggers and thieves) can’t have it!

For me, the funniest incident was where a bunch of people ganged up on me on some message board and kept referring to me as this bitter, sad, pathetic miserable soul who doesn’t want his work to be out there. Ah – Skafish is so very wounded…And while doing this, they claimed that they like me so so much as an artist — all to make themselves look rational and reasonable when they’re nothing more than parasites.

You might ask the question, “Why would they say all of these things?” First, none of these people ever worked with me, don’t know me, have never been friends of mine, and have not done anything whatsoever on any artistic or business level with me.

So the answer is obvious: Since they were selling my work illegally and making money from it, I actually stopped them from ripping me off. Oh, I forgot that they are so very punk – I mean what could be more punk than profiting off of someone else who has never made any money from his own work?

It’s hilarious. These are people who have never spent one minute of their life with me one on one and they’re engaging in a pseudo psychological discourse regarding my motivations and behavior. It’s simple! I don’t wanna be ripped off — that’s all. Would you? Would you like someone stealing the money out of your wallet and yet as an artist, my wallet may or may not have any cash in it anyway, (LOL).

Some people have stated that because some of my work is not available to the world, that perhaps, I’m just oh so bitter, isolated and alone. (Can we have some sad new wave style violins about now?) More inaccurate than that though, is that some even went so far as to suggest that I actually have had something to do with preventing my own work from being released. Hello? Knocking on cretin’s door…Is anyone remotely in residence upstairs? It would be beyond preposterous to think that I of all people wouldn’t want my work out there – art that I have been threatened and physically attacked over, where I could have potentially lost my life multiple times?

Remember this! If something by me is currently unavailable or has never been available, it is because I don’t have any control over it! I deeply want my entire catalogue out there, for the whole world to view in any way they wish. If people don’t like what I do, so be it, as it reminds me just how provincial and narrow-minded people can be, especially those who claim to be open minded and oh so cutting edge. It’s like the hip version of an up tight religious right housewife who is non-orgasmic, LOL!

Regarding the bitter thing, I am not that sort of a person whatsoever! I find bitterness to be quite boring, tedious and draining. Even though it has been a tremendously difficult journey for me, bitterness is so unappealing to me and has never been an option I’ve embraced. Elation, joy and ecstasy (no, not the drug) through helping others are my options.

(Oh well, almost everything that’s ever been said about me isn’t true anyway!) That’s what this blog is for, to finally, once and for all, set this ever so contorted record straight! I wake up everyday with great gratitude and enthusiasm and work toward serving others!

Regarding my work, I have ALWAYS wanted it out there, and I have been doing everything in my power that I possibly can to simply get it out there; ever since I made my first little record in a Gary Indiana recording studio back in 1970. I’ve never given up, gone away, or taken a break! This is again, part of the Chicago revisionist history that is blindly accepted as fact. It has been my daily mission to promote my work and my message, everyday, even on Sundays, when I’m being punished for my weekly sins, LOL.

That’s why I started 829 Records, to get this most radical portion of my catalogue to everyone. With its first project, What’s This? 1976-1979 to be released in just a little over a week, it can be heard for what it really was and is! With all of the tapes formerly lost and the enormous monetary expense it has been for me to put it all together, from my vantage point, it is nothing short of a miracle that it is finally seeing the light of day!

Here, over thirty years later, it’s finally mine (What’s This? 1976-1979), and you (the world that wants something transformational, real and non compromised) can have it!

Jim Skafish

© 2008 Skafish

Back In The Day/Musings

Jimmy, did you really push Joan down the stairs?

Posted by Skafish on

When most composers write songs, they rarely write lyrics that are stated as literal prose.  Imagine if the following were the words to a new hit single: “I was walking down the street and happened to meet up with John who I had a conversation with.  John said, “Hello fella, long time no see, should we go out to lunch some time?  I work till five o’clock every day except this Saturday”—STOP!!!  Could you imagine a lyric like that, yet alone trying to sing it?  It would be so dreadfully boring that it wouldn’t even be funny as a HA HA HA Parody. (LOL)

Lyrics, like poetry, provide an often-different less pragmatic mode of verbal communication from conventional linear writing.  With lyrics, the lines, parameters and structures are less literal, more open-ended and far blurrier.  (For example: I remember hearing David Bowie talking about cutting up lyric lines and words and sort of arranging them all together). When interviewed, Mick Jagger said that when he’s writing a song, he first writes down the words strictly as prose.  Then he adapts the words and works with them to becoming a lyric.

Lyrics are often metaphorical on purpose.  I’ve heard many artists say that they would like to have the listener take whatever they feel (in a sense whatever they want) from a lyric – not shove the lyric down someone’s throat as a verbatim statement.  Kurt Cobain had commented that literal lyrics were one-dimensional and boring and that he tried to keep his lyrics blurry.  With that blur, there are many potential interpretative possibilities. It’s sort of the difference between looking at a clear simple picture, versus an image with multiple dimension, shades, hues, textures, layers and even effects.

Some lyrics are stream of consciousness as in Walk This Way by Aerosmith or Come Together by John Lennon while he was still a member of the Beatles.  These lyrics can take the listener on a sort of surreal journey, as these words often filter up from the subconscious of the writer.

Most people don’t have any problem with the above-mentioned styles of lyrics.  They can be interesting, open to interpretation and thought provoking.  What people usually do have a problem with though are the types of lyrics that dramatize a situation, often violently.  A lot of people, especially non-music fans take these lyrics as being the gospel truth of the writer – as if the lyricist meant every word completely graphically.  Especially if it’s violent, it would be presumably stated strongly, therefore, it incites reactions in people who don’t understand the art form as a medium or the real meaning behind the song.

Of course, Rapper Ice T didn’t really mean that he was plotting to go out and kill policeman in his song Cop Killer.  The song came out originally on Body Count in 1992, an album by the rap & heavy metal band of the same name which Ice-T had been fronting.  Said Ice-T, “I’m singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality.”  Ice T considered Cop Killer to be a protest song.

However, the song wasn’t perceived simply as a protest song by a portion of society that was loud and vocal regarding their disdain for the song.  In addition to the actual lyrics, the fact that he is a rapper and that the music itself sounded intense, are all contributing factors to people’s supposed outrage.  Ice T received intense protests, pressure and death threats from the police, government and conservative social groups and shortly afterwards, the offending song was removed from the record.  In the next year, Warner Brothers dropped both the band and Ice-T as a solo artist from their label roster.

Ice T ran into his problem regarding Cop Killer with the general public (the police and the good law abiding citizen thing) but certainly not his fan base.  His fan base loved the song and identified with it largely from the vantage point of an “internal revenge fantasy” based on getting even with the police, who may have oppressed them or treated them unjustly, especially in the inner city.

I ran into a problem too, for my song Joan Fan Club which was released on my first LP in 1980, but for me, it was the complete opposite problem that Ice T dealt with in Cop Killer.

In the song Joan Fan Club, I put myself in the role of the ringleader, summoning the troops (in this instance the cheerleaders, jocks and normal popular kids in high school) to attack Joan (who was fat and ugly.)  I wanted to make the song as vile, disgusting and intense as I could!  Yes, I meant every word of it!  I was going to recreate the drama and make people live through it!  That would make my point – Live through this and see how it feels!

Here is an example of the lyrics:
Joan is the girl she waddles in class
I’m gonna stick some thumbtacks in her back
Gonna push her down gonna spray her with mace
Gonna touch her little pizza face

Joan is the girl we make her cry
She shivers and shakes on Friday night
Gonna egg her house throw some trophies too
Joan we’ve made this fan club just for you!

Can I have your autograph?
Hey fat pig we’re gonna push you down the stairs
That’s right we’re gonna touch your little pizza face
FAT! Hey fatty, you’re a real fox
You know the whole school wants to go out with you
Written in 1977 – © 1979 Skafish

Skafish performs with cheerleadersSomething I didn’t expect though, was that many people took these lyrics as literal.  You might ask, “Why shouldn’t they?  You sang them and wrote them, didn’t you?”  I erroneously assumed that EVERYBODY would know that I didn’t really mean that I was intending on acting out these lyrics or advocating for anyone to do so for that matter.  How could they?  That me of all people: someone with a nose the size of an adult man’s small penis, boobs, huge feet, dressing strangely and wearing make up was going to attack someone in school — like I would even have the nerve to think of doing so for one minute!  I was busy fearing for my physical safety every day — not attacking “fat and ugly” girls.  Remember kiddies, Jimmy wasn’t the prom king! (LOL)

The problem started with the fact that my fan base really liked it – they loved Joan Fan Club!  They perceived me as mean spirited, clever and oh so cynical!  The song mirrored their own viciousness vicariously lived out through the song and me and their post teenage angst holographic illusion they created of me.  On top of that, they damn well expected me to live up to it – I better call them, or at least someone remotely fat and ugly names if they were in my presence, especially if others were near.

It really kicked into gear when Glinda Harrison and I first launched in October 2000.  We started getting emails from the vast world of cyberspace where fans were initially cordial and I responded back to them.  Then suddenly, they viciously turned on me!  I committed a horrible sin!  One worthy of a lifetime of eternal damnation…I was (I can barely get it out – I’m choking up right now – please be delicate with me) nice to them.  OK—I finally said it!  I WAS NICE TO THEM!  (Please don’t tell anybody) –I was actually friendly!  Don’t hate me, please…

“Jimmy, did you really push Joan down the stairs?  And if you didn’t you are a complete Official Joan Fan Club underwearfake and sellout” was the gist of some of these emails received via  These kinds of “fans” (term used loosely) tried to pigeonhole me.  Now that’s funny!  Anyone who knows me or has listened to any of my work should know that I can’t and won’t be reduced to one-dimensional shtick – disingenuously living up to the fans expectations, keeping the gravy train rolling.  If I was ever going to do that, I would have played it safe from the beginning – and playing it safe in the music business is very simple.  As an artist, you attempt to live up to the expectations of your fan base.  It is just like being a politician and playing up to your constituency.  Whether in music or politics, it really means that you better be pretty darn one-dimensional: not complex, contradictory or multi faceted.  I remember hearing Nikki Sixx of Motley Cure laughingly saying that his group would lose their audience if that audience thought The Crue drank milk.

I’ve lost fans many times throughout my career by not living up to their expectations and by following my own singular artistic evolution.  Honestly, that’s quite fine with me and I don’t mean that in a quasi defensive way.  I’m happiest being me and yes, I am a very complex and hard to define individual.  I could never make performing and creating similar to a predictable office job…Why do it then?

Just a few weeks ago I actually ran in the same problem with being pigeonholed once again.  This time, the vicious attack was based on me doing something oh so bad – eternally sinful…oh my God, I’m going to be hated by everyone forever now — What would the punk and punkettes think of this?

I created a Christmas Jazz album?!?!  Yes, the same person who spewed sacrilegious lyrics, sprinkled authentically blessed Catholic Water on audiences throughout the world, made a Christmas Jazz record, with no shocking lyrics – or any lyrics at all!?!?

But this person who posted the nasty review was so uninformed that he actually thought that I (Joan Fan Club Skafish) wasn’t me (Christmas Jazz album Skafish.)  Believe it or not, he actually thought that I was a different Skafish and there were two Skafishes.  He couldn’t even begin to perceive that someone who did Joan Fan Club could have POSSIBLY did the Christmas Jazz record “Tidings Of Comfort And Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas.” Here is the one star review he wrote which was posted on iTunes:

Not THAT Skafish
Looking for “Joan Fan Club” or the quaint Christmas fave “Disgracing the Family Name?” Then go on, New Wave Seekers, because this is not that Skafish.

A common musically-gifted name. Like “Partridge”? XTC vs the lovely group with David Cassidy, methinks.

This pigeonholing process I’ve been through also reminds me of a story Andy Prieboy told me in the late 1980’s.  Andy and I went to high school together and played in a couple of bands back then – him as a singer and me as a keyboardist.  One of the bands, a group I formed called Sway, played at our prison camp high school auditorium, Bishop Noll Institute in 1973 and because the road crew was smoking pot backstage, we were banned from ever playing there again.  For those of you who don’t already know, Andy replaced Stan Ridgeway as the singer of Wall Of Voodoo and had international success in the 1980’s.

When Andy came back home to East Chicago Indiana to visit in the late 1980’s we reconnected.  Months later, he was back in Los Angeles, and when I flew there to perform for the IRS Records 10 year Anniversary in September 1989, I saw Andy again and played keyboards on some of his tracks in the studio.

Andy was talking about the international press core that he experienced traveling with Wall Of Voodoo and made the comment that the press wanted, expected, even demanded that he be a complete A**Hole.  After all, what else is a rock star?  And if you’re a real rock star, you must: do heroin, be rude, violent, not show up for gigs, puke in public, be tortured and act out and treat the press like shit.  Obligatorily, you must be arrested at least once!  Here, the press tried to pigeonhole him.

My typecasting problem with Joan Fan Club was different from Andy’s as it wasn’t from the press — and it wasn’t with overweight support groups protesting the song and calling me an insensitive person to people of plus size – like “I’m fat and I still love myself.  Let’s ban this terrible song Joan Fan Club.”

It was the simple fact that some of my fan base didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t the snotty monster my song so virally portrayed.  The song was supposed to emulate something quite ugly, even diabolically despicable about how horrible high school life can be for those who aren’t popular.  Joan Fan Club was about real life experience – my life experience – and I was going to damn well tell it my way – the way it actually happened.  I just put myself in the role of the attacker to make it as real as I possibly could and have the maximum impact I could hurl out to the world from my inner rage!  (Journalists knew the song was autobiographical by proxy, so I assumed everyone else would too.)

YES, I WAS JOAN!!!!!   As with most of my songs, Joan fan Club was about intense and confrontational social commentary – it wasn’t pretty what I went through – so the song wasn’t going to be pretty!  I was the one who was pushed down the stairs, attacked everyday – and threatened always.  My home was attacked – there was no place of safety  – the monster of abuse created the rage and that rage created the art which I am proud of for the guts it took to do it!

In reflecting upon what Ice T, Andy Prieboy, myself or any artist has been through regarding how the world as a whole reacts to what we create, perhaps it is always most important to remember to simply be who you are – just be you!  That has always been my philosophy.  Keep it simple!  Keep it real!  Keep it true!  It doesn’t matter at all what anyone thinks!

For the compromises one incurs to “make it,” the price tag is just not worth it: loss of self-respect, cynicism, losing your fire to create what only you can create and worst of all, boredom.  For Ice T, he was expressing his rage from the inner city – for Andy, why should he try to live up to a farcical “A**hole boy” stereotypic image of what the press core demands?  For me, I would never make fun of someone or be mean spirited to impress my supposed fans!  I wrote Joan Fan Club as a vehicle of social commentary, awareness, confrontation, purging and ultimately healing, even though some people didn’t really ever “get it.”

Let me know what you think!

Jim (not Joan) Skafish

Tips for Musicians

So you’re young and you wanna be famous, huh?

Posted by Skafish on

Most musical artists who become famous almost always “hit it big” when they’re young – very young in fact. Very seldom do we see someone breaking big as a popular artist in their 40’s, 50’s or beyond. It is such a paradox that becoming famous at a young age occurs exactly at the time in one’s life when they are least prepared to deal with it. Still without life experience and an absence of not yet having to handle tough daily problems and crises, fame plus youth can be a recipe for utter disaster. The list is quite long of those who have self destructed through celebrity, especially early fame, from former teen idol Leif Garrett to Boy George.

People are generally cynical regarding the woes of a troubled pop star, spewing things such as, “You brought it on yourself, A***hole” to “You got what you deserved, you F**** spoiled little no talent piece of crap!” Television, print, photographers, websites and blogs are devoted to chronicling each downward spiral, sitting on the edge of their seats, gleefully watching the train wreck that is often known as young celebrity. With the Michael Jackson child molestation trial fiasco, it seemed generally accepted that it just couldn’t get any worse, till the public’s insatiable appetite found newfound nourishment with the meltdown of Britney Spears.

From my point of view, the reasons for her decline seem obvious. As someone who has witnessed famous people around me self undo, as well as having been there myself, albeit in a far smaller capacity, the “why it all happened” is clear.

For Britney and Michael Jackson, working in the entertainment field as young children created issues, as it does for so many in that position. We hear over and over again the sad and tragic stories of child celebrities. It’s as if a huge period of their life (the things that normal kids do) go missing in action, similar to having a serious memory lapse. It would be like watching a movie, then all of a sudden, the picture goes black and stays that way for quite some time, till the story somehow picks up at a later point in the film leaving the plotline disconnected. Being deprived of life experiences that are essential to one’s healthy development is like repeatedly not sleeping well, eating properly, or ever being in the sunlight. One’s perspective becomes severely skewed, warped and distorted.

In the case of Ms. Spears, she is a true American success story: coming from a humble small town background, becoming a childhood star and then progressing on to international pop star status.

Currently, with her well-documented meltdown, people have just reveled in it! – it’s like watching a horrific car crash and being glued to it. Except with this tragedy, people laugh and make fun of her. (Oops! I forgot – now it’s referred to in hushed tones as an American tragedy, as if to pretend that the media cares sympathetically about her). It is the ultimate revenge people feel toward the famous: the jealousy, resentment, even hatred against someone considered rich, privileged and invincible – We love to bring ‘em down and when that star is young, they can often be brought down.

Look!!! There she is shaving her head – vandalizing a car — I can see her F**** crotch – (The news outlets can slow down the video where 5 seconds becomes 30 seconds – so much better for ratings!!!) GO, BRITNEY, GO!!!!!!! It also makes people feel that their lives are somehow normal. She is the nut case — not I — I am the rational and sane one – a perfect functioning member of society!

I remember seeing a serious news report on CNN called the “Britney Economy.” Simply stated, it estimated how much the American economy benefits from Britney’s decline: magazine sales spiking when she appears on the cover, television shows that have higher ratings where she is the subject, etc. The economic windfalls were reported to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for our country!

I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of a media feeding frenzy myself. Contrary to the Chicago revisionist history that’s out there, I have been as well known in New York and Los Angeles as I was in Chicago, but the pinnacle of my fame and notoriety occurred outside of Chicago in 1980 in England, where I received intense tabloid style media coverage.

Of course it was smaller in magnitude compared to Britney Spears, or any pop star for that matter. Let me first coin these new pop culture phrases right here and now. I was an “almost pop star,” an “on the verge celebrity” What an oxymoron that is. (LAM = Laughing At Myself) Almost all of the press I received, some glowing, some scathing, a lot of it quite cynical, was as sensationalistic and over the top as anything in today’s tabloids. For a press core that fancied itself as musically perceptive and astute, there were hardly any aesthetic observations at all.

It was England in the summer of 1980 and I was dropped onto an unsuspecting British public to do an extensive UK/ European tour with Sting and The Police, XTC, UB-40, Squeeze and U-2 as my first album and single had just been internationally released. From late July through mid September, we were playing pretty much daily to anywhere from 9,000 to 45, 000 people in outdoor stadiums along with a few solo headlining club dates. On that trek, I was also filmed for the now legendary cult classic film Urgh! A Music War.

It all began with our first British performance – the first ever Milton Keynes concert in late July, alongside Sting and the Police, UB-40, Squeeze and Sector 27. From backstage I could see an ocean of people in this outdoor venue – 45,000 in fact. The crowd appeared endless, like looking up at a clear sky and imagining how far it goes. When we came on, the trouble started right away, solely based on my appearance. People were booing and began throwing things – in fact, mostly full or completely full cans of beer — large cans, larger than I remember ever seeing back home. The amps were being hit like perfect targets by a war airplane out of the sky – with each direct hit the beer splattered like a detonated bomb — the stage was soaked in it. My backup singer, Barbie Goodrich and I were dancing all around to avoid being hit while slipping on the stage that appeared as if a water pipe that had just busted open. The band was more like sitting ducks and it was turning into a free for all. The angry mob kept throwing and heaving, more cans, objects, obscenities, you name it…

During the 6th or 7th song, Work Song, I believe, I took a direct hit on the forehead. There was blood – but I was going to continue. This was war — just with a brand new enemy – You must kill the enemy or die yourself, as you’re willing to die for the cause…but my manager and Miles Copeland pulled me off stage. I was bleeding but didn’t need to go to the hospital. As I was sitting in my trailer backstage, I was bandaged, which eventually stopped the bleeding yet I felt paralyzed. No one was being consoling at all – not even the people who worked with me. I remember sitting there until eventually the entire concert was over and seeing Sting ride off in his limousine.

A fan fressed as Skafish profileNow, the press there loooooooooooved it. This was like a free ongoing carnival sideshow to gawk at and revel in. In their minds, here was this nutcase, semi insane barely functioning American mini-star, who they could just rip to shreds with utter fanciful amusement – and they did. I was constantly in the press – at least weekly, often daily with headlines such as “Meet The Worlds Ugliest Pop Star” to “Would You Let Your Daughter Marry Jim Skafish?” A fan dressed as my profile from head to toe strolled aimlessly throughout London while journalists would surprise me out of the blue and try to ask me questions on the streets and in restaurants, as I had not yet ever granted an interview. During this time period, my first album and single shot up into the top 10 of the British Independent Charts.

In August, Sounds Magazine ran a three-week vicious, satirical cartoon of me. The premise of the story was that I was wearing a mask to hide my eternally so ugly mug to try and impersonate being a mainstream pop star, who was implied to be Davy Jones of the Monkees. But, by the end of the three-week run, AH HA! I was found out! The mask was removed!!! It was Skafish, or as they said (to protect themselves from libel) STARFISH! Then someone pukes based on the horror of witnessing the real me and the cartoon was done.

I was 23 at the time and certainly not prepared to deal with this pressure at all. How could I have been? Just like any other performer, there are no classes in school that teach us how to deal with success, yet alone fame. It is its own animal and completely misunderstood. Fame is sold as immortality and a privileged life, when it actuality it is merely an illusion – the illusion of immortally, validation, connection and empowerment. It’s like claiming that a slanted slippery slope is a rock solid concrete foundation to stand on. Besides my own internal confusion at the time, there was no one there, whether from my record company to anyone to help me through this. I was just sort of left out there alone, a gangling freak on foreign soil, in the midst of a feeding frenzy.

I started becoming afraid – even paranoid. I felt like any minute, any second, I was going to die – just right there – drop dead and the whole world would then be able to laugh at the spectacle. I could barely function. It was as if every moment felt like an eternity of terror – endless and without any relief — like finding yourself dropped in the middle of the largest ocean on the planet at midnight with no one around. Of course, in retrospect, it makes sense why I would have felt that way, but being so young, I simply didn’t have the tools and awareness I now have to deal with these types of emotions.

I had to leave — I had to get home. It became my mission. To actually want to go back to the ghettos of East Chicago, Indiana, where I was raised, a place where I had been brutalized pretty much on a daily basis since my childhood – I wanted to be there? That is something I would have never thought I could ever feel.

We were all making about $145.00 a week, but I saved my pennies and bought a plane ticket to New York. I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket back to Chicago, as somehow, back then, it was more expensive than a ticket to New York. From there, my plan was to stay with friends till I got more money and could take a flight back to Chicago. I kept going back and forth on the decision – yes, no, I AM going to do it — no- no-no-I guess I’ll wait it out.

However, after a week or so, that was it. I called a cab at around 5:00 AM before anyone in the band woke up (as we were all living in a flat in London) and took the cab to Heathrow airport. Barbie Goodrich woke up and saw that I wasn’t there – she called Miles Copeland who dispatched his assistant, Carol Anne to the airport to snatch me back.

However, there was one problem – an insurmountable one. Because of how strange I looked, the British airline and government authorities surmised that I must be a terrorist. By the time Carol Anne got there, my luggage was already on the flight and the authorities misconstrued that I had a terrorist bomb in my luggage. The authorities forced me to board the flight. Why? They figured that I had a bomb in the luggage, and forcing me on the plane meant that I would have to die in the explosion. In their minds, I wouldn’t want to die, so presumably, I would be forced into confessing to the bomb right then and there. By me confessing, they’d find the bomb, I would go to prison forever while the rest of the innocent people would have their lives spared. Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that a terrorist would have no problem being blown up with the plane. Back then, their logic may have seemed to somewhat make sense as this was before terrorism was commonplace as it is in society today.

So, they physically grabbed me and practically strong-armed me onto the plane. As the plane was ascending, I felt the sensation of the cabin walls closing in on me. It was 6 hours of tension and fear, then I landed in New York and record company employees were there, waiting. I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and they bought me a hamburger. Once I got to the States, I really didn’t want to go back; to face more attacks and sensational media coverage. Between the record company and my manger who called me somehow on an airport pay phone, they convinced me to go back – and I did – immediately,

After wolfing down my hamburger, I was back on the 6 hour flight to London, arriving there quite late. Back to the flat, I got 1-2 hours of sleep before having to immediately go to Belgium to continue the tour the next morning after being across the ocean twice over the last 12-14 hours straight.

This event was the grand slam home run the press was waiting for. Here, everything they had said about me was able to be validated as true. As they put it, I am this enormous nosed misfit, American mini-star—a nut case, someone who needs therapy, desperately, who you need to listen to before he commits suicide. What I did made the media seem right on the money regarding their opinions of me. They had a field day with it in the press, relishing in the details: Carol Anne talking sense into me, a schmaltzy coming to Jesus moment, you know, the whole smear, the freak gets it now, big group hug, blah, blah, blah and the weirdo is ready to have another go at it. Some of these stories concluded with the concept of now, since I saw the light, there’s every chance of seeing me perform there, unfortunately, darn it…

After that experience, I was quite OK through the rest of the tour and subsequently, never reacted this way in my career ever again. I learned from this saga, and internalized the lesson. At that time, I really saw rock ‘n’ roll, particularly fame, as my ticket out of a life of tortuous abuse. Since I had been persecuted and abused virtually every day of my life from my first day in kindergarten, I was trying desperately to heal my past through my art. With being a sideshow in England at that time, it recreated the torture, now for the whole world to see. That trigger, along with my other experiences as a performer and artist, served as a catalyst of growth. That was the beginning of re-evaluating my perspective on fame. (And yeah, I wrote and recorded a song about it and you’ll hear it on a upcoming release.)

Fame is not easy, especially for the young. Yet people think that fame equals a whole new set of rules: attacks, invasion of privacy and complete disregard of human dignity to merely name a few. It’s as if one gives up all of their inalienable human rights as a trade off to be famous. I hoped the death of Princess Diana would curtail the mad feeding frenzy of celebrity – but it didn’t. However, it is my deepest hope that young artists coming up can learn from the tragedies of those who came before them.

At this point in my life, I really feel that is was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t become a superstar in my early career, a time where I could have not handled the pressures and all that would have come with it. I absolutely would have made every attempt to maintain my artistic integrity, but the insanity of it all could have been quite maddening. Often, young artists ask for my advice regarding their careers. One of my strongest messages to them is to not see fame as a solution to whatever their experience has been. There is nothing worth selling your soul for and I’m so thankful mine wasn’t sold – as it has never really been for sale anyway!

Okay, now it’s your turn – tell me what you think!

Jim Skafish

© 2008 Skafish



Bleeped Again

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When Glinda Harrison, the vice president for my new record company, 829 Records, was making a one sheet for radio, (a one page description that goes out to radio stations detailing a new release) for my new CD What’s This? 1976-1979, she ran into a little problem. In going over the 11 studio recordings included on the CD, she realized something. The lyrics for many of the songs, 4 in fact, might not pass FCC clean regulations. It has been over thirty years since I wrote and recorded most of these songs and I had completely forgotten how challenging the lyrics are – even still by today’s standards.

It may not be what you think, though. When you think of “dirty” lyrics, you think of the F word, swearing like a sailor and repeatedly referring to genitals in pornographic action. I would never resort to such things like using the F word, or pointlessly swearing in a recording. That’s the easy way to express something – and it means virtually nothing, especially after you’ve heard F*** F*** F*** a few times. For me, I always wanted to make my point through content and I would never say anything merely for shock value – it has always been about social commentary and heartfelt message for me. Besides, that, what’s shocking about the F word anymore? I hear 7th graders walking home from school passing in front of my house using it loudly every day.

The problem is that much of what I’ve always written about are issues that society just likes to sweep under the rug; hot buttons for most people psychologically and emotionally; things you just don’t write songs about. Whether from blatantly sacrilegious themes before anyone had done so to pedophilia just to name a few, my songs have always gotten me in trouble. It was startling for me to realize that I might have to face the same issues today, over thirty years later.

So Glinda asked me what do we do. As my new label, 829 Records, which I founded in late 2006, was specifically designed to give me the vehicle to release my music absolutely uncensored, as I have been victimized by censorship many times before throughout my entire career, there was really no question at all. “We’ll just put it out there as it is,” I responded. I would never in a million years think of bleeping out lyrics. (a common technique today, which gives the illusion of danger, while still ultimately playing it quite safe, because MTV, VHI and radio can still play it then). If your work is really dangerous or cutting edge, you don’t bleep out the lyrics for anyone or anything and make it; of all things, toned down dangerous – what an absolute oxy moron that is! In addition to that, you certainly don’t do clean versions for Wal Mart. What’s interesting about all of this though, is how it has become acceptable. Does anyone really complain that artists do clean radio / video versions all the time nowadays? Like with anything, if enough people do it, it sort of becomes culturally the norm – therefore, it’s A-OK.

To me, it is completely hypocritical and so utterly disingenuous to see a video on MTV where every twenty words or so, someone’s mouth is moving but the lyrics just are missing in action. Wait? Did the sound go out? Is there something wrong with my TV? But…I still hear the drums – not just the lyrics… OOHH! I get it! Bad words. To me, that is the ultimate sellout! If you really have something to say, your art has meaning to you and you feel it, then don’t bleep it! There is no such thing as acceptably dangerous – any more that a woman can claim that she is partially pregnant, or someone declare that they have a touch of cancer. If people don’t play it or even if they decide to attack the work and boycott it, so be it. That’s how I have always looked at it and exactly how I will always deal with it. I have to answer to myself, as we all do and the only person you can never escape from is you. I don’t want to be in conflict with myself – I need to be able to respect my choices.

However, there was still the lingering question of what do to with our little radio one sheet. In thinking about it, Glinda came up with a great idea. On the one sheet, we’ll put an asterisk next to the 4 track titles that contain questionable lyrics that says: To determine FCC clean status complete lyrics available at We’ll print all of the complete lyrics on the website, word-by-word, so this way, anyone at radio can see and decide for themselves. I’m not someone who’s going to try and slip one by the radio stations, which takes away their choice; I can face the music. (PTN=Pardon the Pun)

Below are the songs and the lyrics issues in question:

Track 1) Executive Exhibitionist (Recorded 8-76)
And when the kids out of class
Go snatch one quick down with you pants
Flip flop flip flop your pee pee ‘round
Doodle it doodle it up and down
Gobs of pleasure you receive
Just watching all the children scream
© 2007 Skafish

Track 2) Knuckle Sandwich (Recorded 8-76)
Your stomach is mush and you walk like a fag…
Wait till the bell rings I’m a kickin’ your ass…
© 2007 Skafish

Track 7) Sign Of The Cross (Recorded 10-77)
Do a genuflection
Maybe you will get a huge erection
Doin’ the Sign of the Cross…
© 1977 Skafish

Track8) No Liberation Here (Recorded 10-77)
Bury my head and face in crappy toilet water in shit…
© 1977 Skafish


I remember back on February 4, 1977, I was opening for 1950’s act Sha Na Na at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago to an audience of 6,000. Mother’s were covering their children’s eyes, people were throwing things at the stage, and the police stopped the show. I certainly resented being censored in that moment, but hey, looking back on it after all, the crowd was engaging in an all out riot. (LOL)

It was even worse when I was censored, not by society, but by my own team. In November of 1982, Miles Copeland, CEO of IRS Records, the label I was signed to at the time was so shocked and offended by the second album I turned in, he refused to release it. Keep in mind, that IRS Records has been considered one of the most progressive and groundbreaking record companies of all time. With graphic descriptions of a sex change operation, (Let’s Play Doctor) methodically depicting murdering an upper class family through home invasion simply because they were normal, (Home Invader) Miles refused to have any part of putting this music out there. It shocked even him!

It happened again, when on Labor Day in 1992, I was hired to play in Park Forest Illinois at a Jaycees festival. When the person there originally booked me, he asked me if I would consider censoring my show. Even though I was flat broke at the time, with not enough money to pay my bills, I flatly told him no. So after he thought about it for a few days, he said that he was OK with the show as it was and for me to just do what I do.

Skafish and ChristyHowever, the rest of the Jaycees committee were not OK with this idea and during my performance, they were watching every move I was making on stage, waiting for one of the moments they were anticipating. One of my songs from that era where I performed my controversial solo show was named Christy, and it was about a girl on a phone sex line. I used a real life blow up doll on stage where I would jam the dolls crotch in audience members faces, hump the doll and roll around with the doll myself. I did the song about mid way through my set, and by that point in the show, the audience was mixed. The kids were really digging it and the elders were getting pretty uncomfortable, so the tension was building. During the first verse of Christy, I took the doll, spread her legs wide open, and positioned the crotch to ram it right into an audience member’s mouth, a woman who seemed to be OK with it. As soon as the doll’s crotch touched the woman’s mouth — BOOM! Instantly — DEAD SILENCE…. No sound – no lights, as if the world stopped dead in its tracks and froze…everything and everyone seemed in suspended animation – freeze framed…The show was over… they were ready and waiting for this moment so they could immediately pull the plug and did so, in a New York second.

In the newspaper story about the incident a few days later, the Jaycees recited the most idiotic reason always given for stopping a show – those lily white, 1950’s Leave It To Beaver, no one has wild sex (or any sex for that matter) community standards. What does that really mean? Are there standards that represent an entire community: different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender, ages and artistic preferences? Does everybody in a community feel the same about anything? Of course not. What “community standards” really means, is that you pander to the loudest, most judgmental (presumably religious) conservatives, who think anyone who believes anything other than them, is destined for eternal fire in hell, with a devil icon overseeing the proceedings. Who ever sets these standards? Is every single person who lives there and pays taxes polled? Does everyone really have a voice?

To reinforce that point, many audience members opposed them stopping the show and stated so in the article, believing that I had the right to free expression. It’s like the one mother who writes a corporation up in arms, threatening this and that, to boycott and stop buying their products, if they don’t placate her. Like the wimps they are, they usually suck up to her and tone it all down – to make it safe, nice and lame. And it’s not done for moral reasons – it is merely done for fear of income loss.

However, the supposed hip rock ‘n’ roll outlets pull the same stunt, but love to claim that they would never do so to protect their “cutting edge” reputation. In 2006, I kept getting emails from people telling me that they were seeing the film I was in, Urgh! A Music War on VH1 but my number, Sign Of The Cross was always left out. Funny… Why would my number, the finale, right before the encore where I join Sting and The Police, with XTC on stage, be cut?

Let me connect the dots for you. In 2005, Viacom, the corporation which owns both the Comedy Central channel and VH1, pulled a South Park episode from the air called Bloody Mary, where the virgin Mary was depicted bleeding from the vagina, which was to be shown on the Comedy Central channel. Of course, the Catholic league, along with others had a total fit about this episode and pressured Viacom to pull the episode. Just think, if Mary’s crotch was bloody, we might all, along with the planet, all animal and plant life, go into extinction forever! (LOL)

So anyway, Viacom caved in and pulled the episode (isn’t it ironic, though – later, they claimed that not airing the episode had absolutely nothing to do with the pressure they had received. (RC=Real Comedy) Well, who also owns VH1? Viacom does. So with Sign Of The Cross, they would potentially face the same problem. With lyrics such as, “Do a genuflection – Maybe you will get a huge erection,” while I’m swinging church incense and sprinkling the audience with authentic blessed (by a priest) holy water (from an authentic religious supply store) on the audience, there could be a real problem. So I got censored again.

Another number they pulled from Urgh! was by the Cramps, a group I performed with at CBGB’s in late 1977. In the number, the singer, Lux Interior, was putting a microphone in his mouth, sucking it, licking it, caressing it like a big erect penis – WAIT! He might be (don’t even say it out loud…) gay! Oh my God! If children see this, every young male in this country will be engaged in a continuing chain of anal sex with each other from coast to coast. (LOL) The Cramps number, in my opinion, was one of the true highlights of the film, powerful and raw.

With censorship, it’s always the things that need to be heard that get suppressed. Whether vulgar, crude, innovative, revolutionary or transformational for the greater good, let it all be heard. And with community standards being the issue, those standards, illusive at best, represent a minority – just a loud, up tight and vocal one. Maybe radio will play the songs on What’s This 1976-1979 or perhaps, some of these lyrics still can’t be aired on the radio even today – but that’s OK with me either way. At least, this work can finally be out there, for the world to decide for themselves: uncensored, truthful, not compromised and totally real, as it should have always been, and now, will always be.

Jim Skafish

© 2008 Skafish


Back In The Day/Musings

How I ended up in the grocery store with Joey Ramone

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As the first Chicago punk/new wave/alternative artist ever to play the legendary CBGB’s in New York on April 12th and 13th 1977, my band and I were excited to first bring Chicago punk to New York.  At the time, we were all between the ages of 17 and 20 with the only exception being my 23-year-old drummer.  With all of us still living at home, our parents paid for our trip, thankfully, since we weren’t earning enough money as a band to pay for our little excursion.  As we navigated the trip, some of the band and road crew decided to ride in my drummer Larry Mysliwiec’s old green van, while the rest of us flew.  Along with my band came my road crew who were the people who assisted with the practical matters of musical gear, sound and stage set up.  In addition, those wild freaky friends of mine notoriously referred to as the Skafish entourage also joined in for the adventure

Right as we were just beginning our descent from high in the skies to landing at JFK airport in New York, I noticed Skafish entourage member Steve who was sitting right next to me.  He had cupped his hands together and was throwing up because he took too many drugs on the plane flight there.  It added an extra sense of tension to the landing for all of us, but luckily, Steve didn’t OD through the plane touching down.  Unfazed, however, he returned to doing drugs shortly afterwards.  I was adamant that my band and I were to never do drugs or drink and we didn’t, but preventing my entourage was a different matter, of course.  I wasn’t their daddy and mommy!

A while after checking into our hotel, it was time to go down to the club.  Carrying an oversized powder blue suitcase, I remember walking down the street toward CBGB’s along with some of my road crew and entourage, taking in what was around me.  The neighborhood looked dingy, dark, desolate and felt tough, just like the city I was raised in, East Chicago, Indiana.  As this was my first trip to the Big Apple, I was somehow expecting that sense of “the glitz and glamour of New York,” but instead we were in the run down and dismal Bowery, not strolling down Park Avenue.  As I entered the club, I psychically absorbed the feeling of a sense of cool detachment and dinginess, not the feeling of excitement that one would think comes with entering an important rock ‘n’ roll haunt.  No one there really seemed to be thought of or treated like a star.  I immediately met Hilly Krystal, owner of CBGB’s who was quite friendly and nice to me.  My first impression of Hilly was that he was tough, not intimidated by anyone, surprisingly open and non-pretentious. “Welcome. You’re a member of the club” was the feeling I felt emanating from him toward me.

Along with my large suitcase, I settled monetarily in the dressing room while taking in the surroundings: the club house pooch, a Doberman pincher who pooped virtually everywhere and all of the Ramones who were in attendance for both nights of my shows.  I also noticed Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys who seemed to be working as a waiter in the club at the time.  Various photographers who were there to capture Skafish, local punks and a journalist from Variety magazine (who ended up writing a nasty review about us) filled out the room.   My entourage for this trip included the Twiggy Girls: one 17-year-old girl named Donna and a boy named Michael who was 19, both of whom I went to high school with.  They dressed as identical clones of Twiggy the model: mini skirts, matching wigs, identical outfits, giggling in unison while walking and dancing as one.  As they settled in, the Twiggy girls started mingling around the room and flirted with everyone in sight.  The dressing room, which was shaped and sized like a narrow pantry with no door on it, had tons of graffiti on the walls — repeatedly saying, “Brian Jones is alive!”

I observed Joey Ramone walking from the front part of the club where the audience was all the way past the dressing room where I was to the back of the club which led to the john.  Don’t call it a bathroom – certainly not a restroom!  It had tons of graffiti, smelled horribly and lacked privacy, which made it really tough for girls.  On his second pass by me, I yelled out, “Hey, Joey.”  I remember not being sure if he just didn’t hear me or was ignoring me.  Then, a few minutes later on his third pass, Joey stopped and looked at me and said, “Is this the world famous Jim Skafish?”  I was startled, yet I also felt immediately comfortable in his energies, so we just started talking and got acquainted.  After our conversation, I did my first set.  The audience was into what we were doing, cool, (what does one expect – this was New York?) somewhat taken a back by the strangeness of the performance yet not violent as so many of the Chicago audiences had been toward us since we debuted in February 1976.

I next crossed paths a few months later with Joey and the Ramones in the summer of 1977 when the Skafish band opened for The Ramones at Club B’Ginnings in Schaumburg Illinois.  All of the wonderful free spirited punk and punkette kids from the city hijacked a bus to the show, so this upper end rock club looked like it was invaded from another planet, the planet I come from.  I like to think of it as Planet Skafish, where anyone can look like and absolutely be anything they want to be and the idea is to perpetually not conform.  That is the real spirit of punk!  As a true event to remember, there was such a tremendous aura of excitement for both the Ramones and my band from the audience that night.  Right after I stripped down to an old ladies old-fashioned one-piece bathing suit with babushka, we went into our set finale, “Sign of the Cross.”  I was dousing the audience with authentic blessed Catholic holy water (from a religious supply store) when I noticed Taco Ramone coming on stage in sunglasses defiantly holding a beer mug in his hand.  Taco Ramone wasn’t actually a Ramone, but a really great guy who worked at La Mere Vipere, the club which converted from being a gay bar to Chicago’s first punk dance club in May 1977.  At first I was confused, as I was used to being physically threatened and attacked while on stage, but Taco wasn’t doing anything except standing at one end of the stage, looking tough.  Later that night he told me that he was on stage just in case anyone there got out of hand and tried to rush the stage to harm us.  He was ready to protect us, but there turned out to be no need, luckily.

We played CBGB’s again back to back for two nights in early December of 1977, this time with the Cramps.  There was an obsessed Cramps fan at the front of the stage who literally screamed throughout their entire set at such an ear shattering volume that I could continually hear her above the PA back in the dressing room directly behind the stage.  The Ramones were on tour at this time, so we didn’t get to see each other this trek. At one point during my set, Skafish guitarist / vocalist Karen Winner was singing a portion of the Bobby Darin classic, “Beyond the Sea.”  For this piece, I was sitting down like a toddler on stage playing with a bright rainbow colored beach ball.  Then, I kept giving it to a guy at the front of the stage but he didn’t want it at all… so he gave it back to me – then I gave it back to him more forcefully… then he threw it back at me — I threw it harder at him…this kept going on and on until he turned around and stormed out of the club in disgust — but I did get to keep my beach ball.  Both our April and December 1977 shows at CBGB’s led to our first international feature story in England’s New Musical Express in April 1978.  Written by legendary punk writer Mykel Board and entitled: “New Messiah Scores With Deviants,” the story also featured pictures he had taken of us at CBGB’s.  His story introduced Skafish into international consciousness.

In the summer of 1978, we opened for The Ramones a second time at Club Monopoly in Chicago.  We finished sound check around dinner time, and Joey came up to me and said, “Come on with me.”  When I first met Joey in April of 1977, I felt an immediate connection, kinship and camaraderie with him as we were both social misfits; he didn’t fit in and I obviously didn’t either.  Joey always seemed quite introverted to me and in a way, uncomfortably shy.  He wasn’t stereotypic in any way, didn’t open up to people easily, had a hard time finding a girlfriend, all of which I quite loved about him.  So I thought it would be great to go wherever Joey wanted me to go and we left the club.  As we were walking down the street I was not at all sure of our destination, how long it would take and what we were going to do, but I was fine.  People were gawking at us a lot and I liked that.

Skafish: “Joey, why did you guys get a new drummer?” (Original drummer Tommy Ramone had been recently replaced by Marky Ramone who had previously played with Richard Hell.)

Joey: “Tommy just freaked out.  One day when we were on tour, and he just jumped out of the van and completely freaked out.”  Tommy said, “That’s it!  I’m not going to tour ever again.”

Skafish: Is he OK?  I hope he’s OK.  What about your new album? (They were doing “Road To Ruin,” their fourth LP.)

Joey: “We did some county and western on it!  We did some ballads too.” (The references here presumably are to the tracks “Don’t Come Close” and “Needles and Pins

About ten minutes later we finally arrived at our destination.  No it wasn’t a hip record store or a thrift shop with bizarre tattered vintage clothes – of all places, it was a grocery store filled with suburban housewives and screaming kids.  Why were we there?  What could we possibly be doing at a grocery store?  I walked in alongside Joey, who was a bit taller than me.  I’m about 6’3” maybe 6’4” and I would put Joey at about 6’5” or 6’6.”  Joey looked like he always did: ripped blue jeans, plain canvas tennis shoes, his trademark black leather jacket and sunglasses which I observed to be prescription sunglasses, not just vanity shades.  I had on torn and tattered boys swim trunks, which I had pushed up my rear crack to let my fanny cheeks hang out and a too tight t-shirt on.

Right away, my first instinct was to go into survival mode. OK, who’s gonna attack us?  Where are the exits if we have to make a run for it?  If we have to, we’ll fight back!  So we kept on walking and of course, the “normals” were staring.  To me, it’s hysterical to speculate on what they could have thought: “Did they just get out of a mental institution?”  Better yet, “Did they ESCAPE from a psych ward and should we call somebody right away to take them back where they belong, maybe the fire department or the police?”

There’s a reason why I’m saying “mental institution.”  In April of 2007, I was speaking on the phone with Dave Frey, the manager of the Ramones.  He told me a story that years ago, the Ramones pulled into a 24 hour self service gas station/quick mart late one night in Texas.  All four Ramones and their road manger went into the store while getting gas and bought a couple of items.  When the band went back to the van and their road manger was still in the store at the counter, the cashier, an elderly woman said reverently and sincerely to him, “Sir, it is so kind of you to take them out of the mental institution and watch over them like this.  God bless you.”

Back to the grocery store — Somehow, reflexively, my next mode of thought was to observe Joey and how he was handling all of this.  I started monitoring him as I tuned out the surroundings: bright garish overhead lighting, sales on produce signs, screaming kids etc… Joey remained stoic and unfazed, walking deliberately with a sense of being quite closed off to whatever and whoever was around us.  That was his way of being cool, as if he had already learned survival skills for these types of situations.  In that moment, I remember admiring his detachment, as I was much more sensitive to whatever and whoever was around me.

Then we reached our destination.  No it wasn’t for beer, Coca Cola, or even a little snack before the show – It was… cosmetics!?  I was in disbelief.  Not because I wouldn’t go to cosmetics, but because I would have never thought that Joey Ramone would be shopping in cosmetics.  Why were we in cosmetics amidst a bunch of made up sales women trying to sell Estee Lauder and hypo allergenic foundation to upper middle class housewives?  As we were standing at the cosmetics counter, looking like the oddest freakiest couple on planet earth, it dawned on me that everyone in the grocery store might just be afraid of us – in their minds, we could maybe be criminals…  So I just stood alongside Joey, quietly and observationally.  He bought two items: cover stick and face powder.  I probably looked like a person who had just been punked, or frozen in time – like when you’re mind goes completely blank for a moment…Where am I?  What’s my name again?  What day is today?  I can’t quite recall…

Then all these analytical thoughts started racing through my head:  If Joey is wearing his sunglasses which he always wears on stage, why would he buy cover stick, you know, to put under his eyes to hide bags and dark circles?  Who would ever see under his eyes anyway with his sunglasses on?  Why face powder?  His hair covers most of his face on stage, the glasses cover the rest, so what is it for?  I never did bother to ask him why, but I figured, “Hey, it’s perfect.  Why not?”  We maybe startled some housewives and that’s good enough for me.  In a very nonchalant way, Joey simply took some bunched up crumpled up cash out of his pocket, no wallet but just out of the front pocket of his jeans.  He paid for his items and we were on our way back to the club.

When we got back to the club, it was mid evening.  All of us were in this rather small dressing room at Club Monopoly before the show: the Ramones, Skafish band and my road manager Jimy Sohns.  (Jimy Sohns is the singer of the legendary Chicago band “The Shadows Of Knight,” who first hit it big in 1966 with the classic “Gloria.”  That song alone went on to sell 4 million copies worldwide and several hits followed for the band.  As Jimy’s career had gone through those well known ups and downs of a life in rock ‘n’ roll, he recently had become my road manager.)  Jimy Sohns was casually strumming his vintage Rickenbacker guitar and no one was paying much attention till the subject of the guitar came up: “Oh, this is the guitar we used to cut Gloria with,” Jimy stated.

Johnny Ramones’ eyes lit up and seemed to bug out of his head.  “I’ll give you a thousand dollars cash for it right now,” Johnny offered for the guitar.  Jimy, as one would assume, refused to part with his historical axe.  Johnny still persisted for a while as he really wanted it, but Jimy wouldn’t part with this piece of rock music history.  As I was exiting the dressing room, I don’t remember Joey having done any vocal warm ups before his set, but I do recall that later down the road, he did study opera for a while to train his voice which is a great idea, one I highly recommend for any singer.

That evening, we did our performance and the Ramones followed with theirs.  Joey was in good voice and the band played their songs about the same speed on their records; maybe a bit faster.  At tempos similar to their studio recordings, the lyrics and vocal melodies were still quite audible.  I really loved the Ramones clever, well-written songs of this era featuring Joey’s very distinctive voice.  The audience was fantastic – not as wildly dressed as the July 1977 show, but a bit more laid back and hip.

Months later, I was told that The Ramones were looking for me to see if I was lurking around at a show of theirs at The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, which I couldn’t attend.  Different Ramones were asking where I was hiding as that was something I might have done.  “OK, where is Skafish?  Is he around the corner or something?”  Right after my first LP was released in the May of 1980, I went backstage to a Ramones show at a Chicago college and I gave Dee Dee Ramone my first LP.  I remember him repeatedly saying, “Now which track is the best one?”   I surmised that he would probably recall the first track, as he wouldn’t have to think about it.  So I told him, “The first track is the best one.”  This way, he could put on the record and not have any trouble remembering which track is the one I recommended for him to listen to.

Back in the day, Joey did find a girlfriend who moved in with him and accepted an engagement ring, only later to break up with him. After the break up, she ended up marrying Johnny Ramone and consequently stayed married to Johnny until he passed on.  This disappointment further emphasized Joey’s alienation and for the rest of his life, he never made a serious or long lasting commitment to another woman.  This contributed to Joey and Johnny not speaking for many years, which required an intermediary to be on tour.  Even in the small confines of a tour bus, they didn’t speak to each other, so the intermediary would have to pass messages between the two of them.  The intermediary would speak on John’s behalf, “John says our shows are selling out in Spain, so we should add some more tour dates to make some money.”  Joey would then respond, “Tell John that I am – thinking about it.”  As one their albums was aptly titled, “Too Tough To Die,” the Ramones weren’t going to merely fade off into the sunset, even amidst financial stress and personal issues.  Now that Johnny and Joey are both in spirit, it is my sincere hope that they can resolve whatever barriers came between them.

In 2001, I remember getting the mail and preparing to read the new Rolling Stone, when my eyes caught part of the cover:  “Joey Ramone 1951-2001.”  I was stunned and felt paralyzed.  All of the images: memories, performances, scenes and experiences I shared with Joey and the rest of the band started racing through my mind, like a flash slide show I wasn’t in control of.  I felt resentful and sad that Joey didn’t achieve the success he rightfully deserved and now it was simply too late for him.  He was gone… At first, it didn’t seem real to me, as most of us initially feel when someone we know leaves this dimension.  I started to cry and I was quickly going into emotional overwhelm, when I rushed downstairs into my basement where I keep a little spinet piano just to privately write songs on.  I took all of the pain, sadness and disappointment of that moment and channeled it into an alternative rock / pop song for Joey named “Forever Fetal,” a song I do plan on recording.   I co dedicated the song to my band member Barbie Goodrich who transitioned into spirit, also from cancer, about 6 years prior.

It’s ironic to me that as I’m writing this over thirty years after I first met Joey Ramone, I recently noticed that Joey and I crossed paths again, this time on the Internet in rock ‘n’ roll cyberspace — as both being included on a list entitled: The 16 ugliest men in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  My, oh my, how flattering!  Wouldn’t my mommy and daddy be proud of me?  (LAM=Laughing at myself!)  Yet to me, Joey Ramone represented everything that is beautiful about rock ‘n’ roll: a home for the disenfranchised, a special singing voice, a unique individual with a one-of-a-kind essence and a timeless icon…




New Skafish CD “Whats This? 1976-1979”

Posted by Skafish on

A big wonderful divine hello to all of you punk and punkettes in cyberspace, your own space, here in Skafish Blog space and any space for that matter!

I wanted to let you know about my new CD What’s This? 1976-1979.  What a labor of loving childbirth it has been!  11 original studio recordings, 9 of which are previously unreleased dating back to August 1976, which are the first Chicago punk, new wave, alternative and indie recordings ever, a 6 panel digi pack with a 36 page booklet, complete lyrics, rare and previously unseen photos, plus liner notes by rock legends Cheap Trick.  Why Cheap Trick you might quizzically question?  Because they WERE there, at my very first Chicago shows, which date back to February 1976 and attended many of my shows throughout the 1970’s.  They saw it all and they tell it all – like it really was – and really is!

Also, I recorded 5 new commentary tracks myself in November 2006 to set the record straight and also, tell it like it really was – and really is.  You might like to hear the true story of Sid Vicious’ last public event, which happened at a performance of mine in New York, 12-78.  He came to see us play with a mutual female friend – which lead to a brawl.  As usual, it’s been inaccurately reported throughout the years and for the first time, you can hear about it exactly as it really happened.  Since I didn’t get drunk or high back in the day and it all took place a few feet away from me, I do remember, LOL!

Check out the new website just for this CD where you can pre-order it now.  The official release date is April 1, 2008, but it’s no April Fools joke.

I hope all is well for you in your space,

Jim Skafish


© 2008 Skafish

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