Some time back I was in Barnes & Noble and a book jumped off the shelf at me. I was enjoying thumbing through We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1998-2001 even before I realized that the author was Eric Davidson, lead singer of the New Bomb Turks. The book is a fun read, full of stories about bands that played raucous garage punk in the pre-internet era. Though they may not have achieved mass success, they built up legions of loyal fans who loved the over-the-top shows. A good time was had by all, which was the whole point of it anyway. Eric Davidson uses the term “gunk punk” to describe these bands “rocking around with a ragged revamp that seemed to have completely dismissed hardcore and gazed through beer goggles back to lost ’60s garage rock (Sonics, Seeds) and/or early ’70s proto-punks (Stooges, MC5, Dictators, New York Dolls, Flamin’ Groovies, Cramps).” When Blurt asked Eric Davidson to name the three most important gunk punk bands, and he listed off 14.
Eegads! Well, if I must, but I’m making it longer, in relative chronological order…
- Various Billy Childish groups – consistent, unrelentingly trashy recording and honesty.
- Lazy Cowgirls – Whipping up all raw American roots music fast-like before most did, before hardcore even.
- Pussy Galore – Template-setting garbage noise leap forward for garage punk.
- Dwarves – They made the perfect rock ‘n’ roll record, Blood, Guts & Pussy, and had probably the best overall live evocation of the We Never Learn icky ethos.
- Gories – Mick Collins says it best in the book – essentially, when he heard all those lame post-Nuggets comps’ ads say “Wild, primitive garage rock!” then he bought them and they were jangly folk, he said they decided to make records as wild and primitive as those comps claimed. And did!
- Supersuckers – No one really sounded like the Ramones, the Saints, and Motorhead in 1990. Burped out a great sense of humor while living and playing within the often self-serious grunge central, Seattle.
- Mummies – Along with the Gories, truly reiterating the “anyone can do it” stance. The disgusting stained mummy outfits as a retort to the dress-up surf revival going on around them was a nice touch.
- Devil Dogs – Being one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands ever, playing every show with sweaty urgency, and having Andy G hilariously spout off at all the jerks in the audience, yet winning them over, all make up the general savoir faire of gunk punk.
- New Bomb Turks, natch – Mike Lavella said to me, “I don’t know how you’re going to write this book without saying what a big deal your band and that first album was on the scene.” So there, I said it here. Ha!
- Oblivians – Their informed roots and extremely well-written songs – blasted sloppy through a revived sense of trash after early side-projects – made them a kind of garage punk 7″ tidal wave era cresting point, that washes down on bands to this day, where their reunion gigs are selling out in a few days.
- Teengenerate – Ditto, only WAY trashier even; maybe the most explosive live act of this whole thing.
- Hives – Veni, Vidi, Vicious was a truly great, catchy-approachable album that yanked a lot of this book’s aesthetic chutzpah into the charts, which has never been easy.The Ramones couldn’t even do it!
- Clone Defects – The Defects – whom I used to help sneak into Detroit area shows and watch piss people off around town before they formed – knew their garage-punk shit, and then ate it again, shitting it out as a cosmic mind-bending meal for another generation, I suppose.
- Black Lips – Similar job as the Clone Defects, only more Replacements drunk-winkers than Crime acid-eaters.
Many of these bands are still active, but gunk punk as described in We Never Learn had largely run its course by 2001. The New Bomb Turks themselves were a key band in this scene, of course. Though they still perform every now and then, the New Bomb Turks officially called it quits in 2003. At that time lead singer Eric Davidson explained,
Their myspace page explains, “We are NOT really a band anymore; we’ve all got various ‘real’ jobs, kids, etc. But we’ll come swig’n’sing with ya if the offer’s good.”
It’s interesting to see how the bandmembers have put their English majors from Ohio State to work. Eric Davidson worked edited CMJ for three years before publishing We Never Learn. Guitarist Jim Weber is now an English teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, and was named National Honor Society Outstanding Teacher in 2010. That same year, he did an interview with the school newspaper The Wildcat where he reported that he took up teaching because he “wanted to make an impact for the better”. In response to the question, “What comes first your passion for music or teaching?” Weber responded, “Teaching, hands down.” As he explains to his students on his website, “As you may or may not know, I play in a band called the New Bomb Turks. Before I became a teacher playing guitar was my job, that was how I earned a living. That ended about 8 years ago, but we we still play a couple of shows every year.”
The New Bomb Turks’ bassist Matt Reber was the manager of the Wexner Center Store, the bookstore of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. As part of a book tour in support of We Never Learn, Eric Davidson did a reading at the Wexner Center. Earlier that day, Eric Davidson and Matt Reber appeared in an internet forum to answer questions.
The New Bomb Turks played a number of shows in association with Eric Davidson’s book tour, which were a mix of highbrow and lowbrow. They played a show at the Bell House in Brooklyn with Live Fast Die that was followed by a book release party. The day after the reading at the Wexner Center, the New Bomb Turks performed at the Surly Girl Parking Lot Blow-Out with the Gibson Bros. and Scrawl. Eric Davidson then continued his book tour in Chicago with a book signing at the Museum of Contemporary Art. More recently Eric Davidson has continued to do interviews and sing with the Livids.
The New Bomb Turks have canceled all upcoming performances. They provide only the sketchiest of explanations on their website and Facebook page, “Due to a serious illness in our family, New Bomb Turks have decided to suspend all activity for the time being.” Let’s hope all is well soon for the New Bomb Turks.