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

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!”

10 Replies to “Hindsight isn’t 20-20 – it might need bifocals…”

  1. Jim, I always enjoy reading your entries and hearing what you have to say. You are one of my all time favorite artists. You crack me up and I always learn something new from you when reading your blog. It’s such a great opportunity to get to know the artist. I wish more artists were as kind and sharing as you are. I can’t thank you enough for your generosity. It is much appreciated. As I always say, “Good music should not be ignored” Jim, you tell it like it is and was and you are not doing it to fit anyone’s fancy! LOL

    Thank you,

  2. Justin — Your words are much appreciated. I have always tried to keep it real!

    Jim Skafish

  3. It’s a revisionist world now, where people just cherry pick facts and dates and assemble them to suit themselves, assuming nobody will care enough to check it out. It’s a collective modern social disease. If our leaders can lie so egregiously, they must think, then what IS truth? It’s a slippery slope, and it’s really caused a lot of problems, because nobody knows where to turn for reliable information anymore.

    And this whole “wiki” concept is for the birds, too, because anybody CAN just add any old thing they want, with no credentials. They should at least have to provide sources to be able to edit those things.

  4. Aaron — Thanks so much for your insights. They are intelligent and appreciated. I always thought that people would differentiate between opinions and facts in the most obvious sense: like a date when something happened, or a place where something occurred, versus whether someone likes something or not.

    But if one can distort the facts as it suits them, they don’t have to look like it’s their opinion, which of course, can be refuted. If it is presented as factual truth, then there’s more of a likelihood of people getting away with whatever.

    Jim Skafish

  5. Jim-I apolgize for not posting to your blog until now: I have been reveling in your compilation cd since it was released, assessing my feelings and being reminded of all of the details that have been obscured in my memory. I have been enjoying being ‘re-awakened’ to these details, which I am repeatedly surprising myself saying, “Oh, yes, that IS true, that DID happen”, and “Wow, listen to THAT!”

    More importantly, an astute friend of mine enjoyed listening to What’s This this eveining, and asserted the music would make an incredible rock-opera, rock-musical, “Disgracing the Family Name”, (music by Jim Skafish). With “Rent” and “Jersey Boys” out there, why not a period piece about the 70’s’, about “Everyman” Jim Skafish? Autobiographical music, yet everyone can relate to it. There is a continuity in the compositions, tailor-made for Broadway, with the original compositions from the 70’s.

    Just thought I would throw that out at you, Jim, however, I did respond that it is entirely possible that others would see the same potential , (and, need, if I might.)

    Thank you for compiling the recordings, adding your commentary, and sharing with the world. It was an extraordinary time, extraordinarily personal expression on your/our part, and an important and over-looked facet of pop music history,

    I again assert, playing music with you was among some of the finest music-making I have ever participated in. Literally.

    Thank you and best to you always, Greg

  6. Greg — I remember the vision I had of something radically new beginning to take shape by 1973. I met you, Karen and Mark Winner by that time. I already knew David Prochazka and had been playing music with Larry Mazalan since 1970. I wanted to create art that was completely unique.

    I am so honored that you were there and for your irreplaceable contributions along with the rest of the band.

    Of course it was overlooked, as things that are different often are. But what we shared was priceless.

    I’ve thought of making it all into an opera or a musical! Let’s see where the ride goes and thanks so much for everything!

    Jim Skafish

  7. I can’t speak for Chicago but I learned that, in spite of the freedom punk was supposed to represent, the scene was at times very conformist. If you didn’t copy the style of another band or didn’t spawn a dozen imitators, you may as well have not existed. It’s too bad these “journalists” are treating as a popularity contest, rather than noting how things really came together.

  8. Ewolf — Chicago has been one of, if not the worst major city regarding reporting or documenting the punk scene correctly. People veil and hide their opinions under the false guise of historically accurate, when it is a popularity contest, and what is considered acceptable punk to the people “documenting’ the history. I have made the commitment to getting the truth out there, and continuing to set the record straight.

    You’re right, punk has been way too conformist. I knew that back then in 1976, and refused to limit my expression to what could “work.”

    Thanks for your insightful comments!

    Jim Skafish

  9. Jim,

    I missed this blog entry when it came out…but it reminds me of how much the brevity and inaccuracy of your punk wiki entry bugged me, and how i did plan to write a more comprehensive, accurate write-up to replace the one there. It is still on my to-do list! Noone who saw your very brave, confrontational performances back then would ever say you weren’t punk!

    The wiki can be a wonderful resource,and Gantry, who runs it is to be commended for starting it, but it is reliant on geezers like me for input and accurate info…these young whippersnappers just weren’t there after all

    and btw, I am glad you have nice things to say about Club Foot! :)!

  10. Brian, it’s not that the people who have tried to rewrite Chicago’s punk history are merely young and don’t know any better. There has been a concerted effort to trivialize, marginalize, and completely dismiss my contributions to Chicago’s musical history.

    These people don’t want someone like me, who they perceive to be a “faggot,” someone stripping down to an old ladies one piece bathing suit and someone is so utterly strange to represent the Chicago punk movement, even though I created it. Punk, like rock n roll, is a conformist art form. Not only did I create it in Chicago and helped to pioneer it worldwide, I attempted to blow the roof off of what people’s aesthetic limits and perceptions were, and I will continue to do so with my new art as well. I’ve come to accept that the same alienation that I wrote about is the same alienation I’ve met with by the art form I created in Chicago.

    Remember, I didn’t just appear out of nowhere sometime in 1977. I started writing songs as early as 1969-1970, and creating the really edgy musical aspect of what I’ve done with Skafish as early as 1973. By February 1976 in Chicago, I was doing what you later saw me do in 1977. In the fall of 1976, Skafish did a two-month Chicago area tour which met with resistance and physical danger. The riot of 2-4-77 at the Arie Crown Theater Skafish caused in front of 6,000 people was written about in Billboard magazine. As you know, I first played CBGB’s in April 1977 which was written about in Variety magazine. I was the only Chicago punk artist from back then to receive national and international press, perform all over the US, in the UK and Europe and get an international record deal. So no one can claim that I was too obscure, as if I only played clubs in Chicago.

    I started performing in Chicago almost a year and half before La Mere Vipere became a punk dance club in May 1977 and before any other punk bands were on the scene. People like to rewrite history as if fits their fancy. There are not enough credible journalists and musical historians in Chicago to police what is being said, so it’s a free for all. If someone wants to know the real truth, I’m easy to find. My band and I did not drink or do drugs, so we have crystal clear memoires of what really happened back then, but that means that the truth may not be what people emotionally want to hear.

    Of course they’ll never be stupid enough to admit that they just don’t like me, as that makes them look non-credible. So they’ve just managed to write me off, or include me alongside a pack of bands starting in 1977 or 1978, as if I was just one of a bunch of bands. Gantry changed his wiki entries about me right around the time the film You Weren’t There came out. And of course, that film completely dismissed my musical contributions to Chicago, obviously, on purpose.

    People like Cheap Trick, Miles Copeland, Bob Kurson, and George Gimarc of the Post Punk Diary books, know and speak the truth. For those who want the truth, I tell it, just like I’ve always done with my music. I like what writer Jake Austen said in his Time Out Chicago review of “What’s This? 1976-1979,” when he stated that I was too punk for Chicago. Jim Skafish

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