Monday, July 24, 2006

Jesus Loves the Left and So Do I or How I Put the Left on the Train to Disaster and We Never Looked Back(till now)!

Hey, does anybody remember the early 80s?? I sure do. Fresh from my success as a bargin bin diver which got me into selling old vinyl, I soon turned to local PA garage bands, and influenced by Nuggets, Pebbles, and my pal Billy Synth's Psychedelic Unknown comps, I got the brainy idea to start a little label that would send some light on deserving local bands. Bona Fide Records was born and in 1982 our first LP, a 60s comp, The Return of the Young Pennsylvanians was released. Although mostly unknown at the time, now bands like the Centurys, Loose Enz, Shaynes and the Flowerz are known to garage collectors around the world. Even though I was a heavy collector, the modern scene also intriqued me and I was a fan of the many punk, new wave, garage and experimental bands of the time. Especially I was impressed by the Harrisburg scene in which Billy Synth and the Turnups deservedly reigned as kings--though they werent always treated as such. Billy and his pals the Turnups released their own swell records on the band's Cracked Records and I was hooked!

I was also impressed by the growing DC scene and in particular the sonic mayhem of the Slickee Boys with their psychedelic outfits and their frantic adrenaline filled live shows. So I got another brainy idea! Why not put out a comp of current bands who could actually benefit from such a release? So "The Train to Disaster" was hatched and naturally I asked my pals Billy and Kim Kane of the Slickees for help. Well, Billy contributed one of his best songs, "the Mask" and his bass player Roger Deller engineered my comp and moonlighted as the Lone Ketamine Millipede as well. Kim let me use one of my favorite Slickees songs, "Nagasaki Neuter" as well as making me a tape of other cool area bands I hadnt heard. This cassette (a cheapo brand x "re-kord" brand) featured this wild band E.M.(short for the Embryonic Magnetos). The ultra low-fi sound couldnt mask the furious energy of the Magnetos and I had to hear more. Their 3 songs on that tape had all the spirit and drive that I was looking for. "5 AM" in that early version was a hellbent plea to stay in bed and avoid dealing with the real world. "Name of the Game" sounded like some twisted NY Dolls song, "You're cheating and you're lying babe and you've got to pay!" The clincher was the 3rd song, "Give Me Head (Till I'm Dead)", an amazing murky rave-up that coulda been an outtake from the Stooges "Funhouse"! Before long I was on the phone with Jim Swope who told me "we're called the Left now!" I said could you record a track for my "Train to Disaster" LP and they glady obliged.

Soon Brian Sefsic joined on vocals and the band went to a local radio station who somehow let them record "You're So!" and they presented me with two minutes and 25 seconds of pure bliss. It was an incredibly melodic and catchy tune with a riff lifted straight from the Monkees "Last Train to Clarksville"; however, the lyrics were a profane hate-filled tirade to those who tried to tell them how to act. "Hot air blows in and out of your face, you're a fuckin blot on the human race, you're the cat's asshole!" they screamed. They described their antagonizer in hell explaining to the devil, "there must be some mistake" and wishing they could be there to watch the scene. With that one song, the Left arrived and very noisily at that. Not even out of their teens, their first official recording turned quite a few heads, mine included, and heralded the coming of a band destined for punk rock infamy. We went through two pressings of the Train and a European release and everybody wanted to hear more from the Left. The next logical step was to record some more and that's what we did.

At the time I was envious of the work Don Zientara was doing at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington VA. He had done great work with the Slickees, the Velvet Monkeys, Black Market Baby, the Teen Idles and the Bad Brains to name a few, and I was anxious to work with Don. Needless to say, It's the World, the LP that resulted from the 1st Inner Ear session, was a sledghammer to the skull of screaming rock and roll, slinky, subtle, and brutal at the same time, stradling boundaries and genres. The profanity laced record burned with true passion and the fire that branded all of the great rock bands. The Left twisted convention and defied categorization; they had one foot in hardcore punk and one in 60s garage but what emerged had their own distinctive sound, a mess of many diverse influences. The Left's buddy Fat Pat Newman completed the picture with his now classic art of the globe with a big pile of stinking shit on top of the north pole while everyone was battling each other, standing in a sea of beer cans. That struggle for survival was echoed in the tunes as well and the band played with an urgency which reflected that. The Ep was really well received and made a bunch of best of lists as we went into a second pressing, though we succumbed to pressure from retail outlets and made a new cover to appease those offended by Pat's artwork.

Unfortunately, it seems most of the best punk bands, by their very nature, had a short lifespan and the Left was no exception. I booked more time at Inner Ear to record their second LP only to be told the band was breaking up. Still they decided to record some more, thankfully, and we recorded 7 more tracks which we released in 1985 as the "Last Train to Hagerstown". You can call it their swan song or their last desperate attempt to go for rock and roll glory one more time. The songs were still venom filled, but just a bit slower. A blistering note for note remake of the Stooges "TV Eye" played tribute to their idols while showcasing the Left's mad fury like never before. The original tunes dripped with the Left's double edged sarcasm, causing some to scratch their heads, but it was no denying the instrumental barrage that slew all in its path. Trying to get the Left the audience they deserved, I made a pressing and distribution deal with Greenworld in California, only to have them go belly up $13 million in debt! Live and learn, I guess, and this business is certainly a learning experience if nothing else. I learned the Left were one helluva rock and roll band and I have the evidence to prove it, and I learned that when you are presented an opportunity like this, you take the ball and run like hell!
These recordings, now conveniently collected on a great sounding CD for the first time, capture a time,a scene, and a sound that cannot be replicated. I am quite grateful to have been a part of this mess and also glad to be able, finally, to present all their recordings in this deluxe package which finally gives the Left their due.

More info on this swell CD can be found on the "Jesus Loves the Left" page on the Bona Fide site or on the Left's My Space! This CD also features 4 unreleased tracks from a short lived 92 reunion that again rock really hard and despite their brief existence, we can certainly be thankful that the Left left these great tunes for all to enjoy. Jim Swope, the Left's guitarist and primary songwriter, has had a colorful past 20 years involved with countless other bands. He finally has condensed all his life experiences into one super band, Luckyman, and you need to watch for their debut recording coming soon. Brian Sefsic, Bill Sword and Rod Smith have been playing for quite awhile with the Voodoo Love Gods, while Kevin, Brian's bro, is in the Monster Rock-offshoot the Crypt Dwellers. Life goes on and Jesus really does love the Left!