Wednesday, August 7, 2013

JACO, SACRILEGE & ME - Tales from the East & West Village

Browsing in the music section of the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is always a good idea. Just when I think I've read everything on the shelves I stumble across a winner I've never noticed before. One brutally hot and humid July day I was looking for something to help take my mind off the record breaking temperatures outside when I noticed Bill Milkowski's book Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. I've wanted to know more about Jaco and his music for awhile now. Hibernating inside during a heatwave seemed like the perfect time to do it.

Jaco Pastorius is known primarily for two things - 1) turning the music world upside down with his incredible musicianship; 2) being a complete nut case. Both subjects are extensively covered in this book. Jaco's former boss Wayne Cochran of Wayne Cochran & The CC Riders sums it up best: "I ain't never seen anybody play a bass that fast or that precise - never. He was an aberration of nature that was just not supposed to happen, and it happened. It ain't ever gonna happen again."

The book tells the story of how Jaco's monstrous bass playing quickly took shape. He got his start playing with local R&B bands in Florida before graduating on to The CC ("chitlin circuit") Riders, Blood, Sweat & Tears and eventually the jazz fusion royalty of Weather Report. Everyone that knew him in his early days describes Jaco as high energy and very clean living. Suddenly as success comes his way in the mid-70's he gets heavily into alcohol and cocaine. Turns out he had some serious mental issues that were horribly amplified with his addictions. At the start of the 1970's he would brag that he was the "greatest bass player on earth" and he could back it up. By the start of the next decade most people weren't so sure about that anymore.

The story of his decline is heartbreaking. So many people tried to help them but he kept burning bridges both professionally and personally. Even a fuck up like Iggy Pop managed to maintain several major label record deals. By the early 80's Jaco was often homeless in NYC, hanging around the basketball courts on W.4th Street. I've often wondered if I ever crossed paths with him on my frequent trips to the city to buy records, hang out and drink tall boys on the street. A friend of mine said "if you saw a guy walking around in high heels carrying around a bass without a case, then you did." I'm pretty sure I saw more than one guy that fits that description. The tale of Jaco's unraveling in Florida in September 1987 is completely depressing. Most people seem to think he had some sort of death wish and he eventually got what he was looking for when a bouncer at a nightclub gave it to him. Tragic.

This book made me nostalgic for all the long gone NYC venues that Jaco used to play and hang out at - the Lonestar Cafe, Bradleys, 55 Grand, etc. You could hear jazz all over the West Village and SoHo. I'd check out some of these places while killing time before meeting up with friends to go see shows at CB's or The Ritz. One summer night in 87 or 88 I drank beer outside Bradleys and listened to George Shearing play for about half an hour for free. That was kind of cool.

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Jaco live in 1978

Just as I was finishing up the Jaco book, I received a reissue LP of New York Hardcore band Sacrilege in the mail from Wardance Records. What do the two have in common? Not much on the surface but around the same time that Jaco was panhandling, drinking beer and shooting hoops on W.4th Street, Sacrilege was probably panhandling, drinking beer and shooting dope across town in the East Village.

Sacrilege was started by Adam Mucci, who had played bass with Agnostic Front, and former Reagan Youth guitarist Victor Venom (great name) in late 1984. As the liner notes to this reissue point out, 85 was a transitional year for New York Hardcore, and hardcore in general. A lot of bands were going in a more metal direction because Black Sabbath sounds amazing when you're high on angel dust. Most were influenced by the first Slayer, Metallica and Exodus tapes and wanted to add a bit more technicality to their playing, kind of like what Suicidal Tendencies did. Sacrilege were a little different. They combined their crusty punk Discharge/GBH influences with the ultra primitive grunt of Venom, Hellhammer and Sodom. By 1985 Tom Warrior had moved on to form Celtic Frost and wanted nothing to do with Hellhammer and most metal heads found Venom's Welcome To Hell way too simplistic once Slayer came on the scene.

The two sides of this album represent the entire recorded output of Sacrilege, two demo sessions at the start and end of 85. Side one was recorded with Don Fury and contains 9 short sonic attacks of heavy Discharge style punk. The fidelity is beyond raw but captures the sound of four pissed off dudes playing way too loud in a small room. Vocalist Clay Rice barks out the anti-authority lyrics with a rough bark that reminds me a little of Clifford from BL'AST. Flip the album over and you can tell that there's been a bit of a musical transformation. The sound is still blistering but the riffs are more involved and there's Motorhead, Venom and Hellhammer mixed in with Discharge. I guess some would call this stuff "D-beat" but I really have no idea what that even means. (I am very much against labeling everything with ridiculous sub genres in music). Both sessions were mastered to vinyl from old cassettes so there are dropouts and whooshes all over the place. This stuff was designed to be cranked through a boombox while hanging around outside. For best results, make a tape from the LP and dub it a few times so it gets extra noisy. Wardance and their partner label Radio Raheem did a great job packaging this. The vinyl is heavy duty, there's a lyric sheet and a very cool 4 page insert. Wardance is run by an old school NYHC fanatic named Freddy, who also loves disco and new wave for some reason. He lives in Queens. Maybe that expains it.

Sacrilege ceased existence by the end of 1985 and evolved into the ultra crusty Nausea. I used to run into their singer Al all the time in East Village bars. We'd talk about our mutual love of Hellhammer and Discharge, then he'd try to convert me to vegetarianism. I had to explain to him that there was no way in hell that I was going to give up my grandmother's homemade meatballs. Good times.


Buy from Wardance

Sacrilege "Fallout"

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