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

[tiny_coffee]

Musings

Bleeped Again

Posted by Skafish on

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 829records.com. 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
Exposed!…
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
Exposed!…
© 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

[tiny_coffee]

Back In The Day/Musings

How I ended up in the grocery store with Joey Ramone

Posted by Skafish on

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…

Skafish

 

News

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 www.skafishwhatsthis.com 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

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© 2008 Skafish

Musings

And in the beginning…

Posted by Skafish on

Divine greetings to you and welcome to my first ever music blog, where, approximately once a week, in my own words, I will post a new entry.

First, I will share my perspectives and perceptions of the musical world from back in the day till now.  As I have devoted my entire life to my art since I was a child and have been in the music business since the 1970’s, I feel that I have a unique and original perspective to share about music/art, culture and the music business.

I also intend on setting the record straight.  So much of what has been reported as factual and truthful regarding both the Chicago scene as well as my own experiences as a performer has been stated in inaccurate terms.  As a lot of revisionist history has been going on of late, people deserve to know the truth — not the revised “truth” that feels good to the person dispersing the information, but simply what really happened.  Since I didn’t drink or get high back then, (and didn’t allow my band to do so either) they and I really do remember, LOL!

In this blog, you are welcome to get to know the real me as the being that I am, not the distortions of what have been propagated about me.  From my first day in kindergarten till today, it has been a rough and tumble ride as who I am authentically as both a person and an artist has caused many love / hate reactions.  The rejection, violent attempts against me and misrepresentations of who I am have all helped to make me a better person – one of deepened compassion and unconditional love for everyone.  The rejection of all tribes forces me into having no peer group whatsoever — therefore, it is only me who is accountable to me, which allows me to be nothing other than completely free.   I belong nowhere, therefore, I belong everywhere.

Even though I’m unattached as to how I’m perceived by anyone, I am attached to the fact that all people deserve to expect that what they’re reading, seeing or hearing is correct, especially when it is passed off as “history.”  I love Chicago and gave my heart, soul and body to put it on the map as a great world class forward thinking musical city.  Since the Chicago punk scene was not historically documented when it originally happened, much of what is being said now is incomplete and not told factually.

Since it is a historical fact that I was performing in Chicago since February 1976 before there was any Chicago punk scene at all and performed consistently both nationally and internationally from then till October 1, 1994, I can offer the absolutely unique and wonderful perspective of seeing Chicago transform from a very conservative music city before 1976 to becoming of one of the most progressive musical meccas in the world back then, alongside New York, Los Angeles and London!  Since I performed at CBGB’s in New York as early as April 1977, the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles in February 1978 and in London in front of an angry mob of 45,000 in July of 1980, I experienced these cities first hand, not only as a performer, but as someone who was a part of the collective.

In addition, I look forward to sharing behind the scenes stories with you that have never been told before.  It is thrilling for me to be able to hopefully put you there!  I am quite excited to be able to offer special tips to other musicians, on both an artistic and business level.  As so much of my career has been plagued by career altering business decisions outside of my control to life threatening occurrences, it is my sincerest hope to offer suggestions and tips to other artists to make their journey easier and more successful.  Since I began teaching music to children (many of whom have been handicapped) in the inner city of Chicago beginning in late 1983, early 1984, I have devoted virtually every day of my life to serving others and it gives me profound joy to see others grow and succeed!

Since I started classical piano with a brilliant blind piano teacher when I was six, to beginning to play professionally at age 9, to making my Chicago debut in February 1976 when I was 19, it has been a tremendously painful and difficult, yet ultimately transformational and enlightening journey; one of intense psychological healing and spiritual growth for over three decades.  I am now filled with bliss and gratitude for all that has happened and joyously unattached to whatever outcomes may or may not occur.  As this is still a work in progress, hopefully, there will be countless more installments of this story to come.  I wish to share this journey with you – as it actually happened and as it now unfolds.

Jim Skafish
© 2008 Skafish

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