Monday, March 06, 2006

Getting her mail In an old bathrobe Without any makeup Without any shoes

So due to Hopper's ongoing and v. dilligent Victory Records streetteam expose, we started to tool around the ol' Victory website today, just taking a peep around. And what to our wondering eyes should appear? A new Smoking Popes live DVD and CD? Gawd. We heard about them playing the Flower Booking anniversary show at the Metro a few months back and fervently hoped that sleeping dog would lie. Should have known better. It's utterly confounding that these two entities from different parts of our past should get together and start brewing up some steaming mutual mediocrity, and we feel it neccessary to issue a OGFP missive to this effect. Step into our time machine, bitches. Let's get Marty McFly up in hizzle.

Victory was basically a Chicago label for many years, and it still might be. We haven't exactly "kept up" with their "product". They used to have an actual storefront on Milwaukee that we used to haunt, called Bulldog Records. The main label dude, Tony, used to have all his old Dischord 45's (Minor Threat! Untouchables! The Faith! Void!) and Necros 45's and Negative Approach and Misfits and all that early shit hanging up on the wall behind the register, and we totally coveted that shit like it was some Bruce Nauman neon sculpture and used to rap with him about shit on the regular. But since we couldn't nearly afford these trinkets (heck, we couldn't even afford the "Inki's Butt Crack/Song Number One" Rapeman Sub Pop singles club ltd ed. 45 down the street at the Quaker Goes Deaf for $65), we'd do stupid things like buy the By The Grace of God EP cause the singer dude "retired from the scene" in Punk Planet or in a Heartattack column somewhere and that was at least somewhat compelling or some skate-rat douche convinced us to nab the Gorilla Biscuits re-issue...becuase yo, dude. Walter went on to be in Quicksand, dude. Ugh. I still HAVE most of those records. Isn't that sad? Moved them from place to place for a decade now. No wonder our friends all hate us. Now I couldn't trade all those records for a baker's dozen of Felix Von Havoc's soiled prophylactics and a signed Radio Flyer LP. Pull out your Sky Corvair buttons and white belts 'cause my balls hurt! (You have no idea what I'm talking about.)

One time, at this dumpy venue in Chicago called the Odum, there was a punk/hardcore festival where all the big bands at the time were playing. It was where we bought our Get Up Kids/Braid Posted Stamps split 45, if you get my reference frame. Merch tables galore, short pants, wallet chains, dyed black hair. Lots of big bands and people lined around the block to see Metroshifter or some wack shit. Anyway, I was eight spots from the door or so, and Tony Victory walked by me and said hi, gave me the head nod and two handed Bill Clinton fist-pump, the works. In front of the entire line. Just 'cause I had gone into his store so much. People looked at me like I had just been blessed by Cardinal Bernadin. We must have bought eighty bazillion records at that fest, like one from every table.

We were stupid, and had extra money to blow, you know? Don't be too hard on that 22 year old. He just wanted to belong to SOMETHING. That's why he went to see Earth Crisis at the Metro with his best friend, and, while he liked some of the blast beats, thought the crowd was totally out to lunch and ultimate lame-o-ville. Hatebreed? No wonder it was such a fucking sausage party! E-gads! Pussy was like a rumor to the 22 yr old OGFP in 1996. We were working at the record store, wearing an old and very smelly pair of Simple skate shoes, and had no control over our wardrobe. We would check out girls on the CTA in the morning and we probably looked at them so needily and longingly that we are lucky we didn't get pepper-sprayed on the Division platform at least once a week.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We need to go back farther. The Smoking Popes were, simply, our hometown band. The Bros. Caterer lived in Lake In The Hills, but went to Crystal Lake Central, where there were tons of punks and kids in bands. We, on the other hand, went to Crystal Lake South, where there were no bands at all apart from a prog band that we sometimes wrote Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics for, called Condition:Red (this is no joke, btw; we wrote a song for them called "Atlas Shrugged" which IS committed to 4-track somewhere in this fair land), and only one even remotely punk girl, who had a Screeching Weasel tattoo and treated us and most everyone else at C.L. South with ultimate disdain. Of course we had a little thing for her. High School for us was a blur of baseball fandom, Metallica, Malcolm X hats, Public Enemy...we thought we were so smart. We developed hourly crushes, we thought Gentle Giant was one of the greatest bands of all time, and then we stumbled across the Smoking Popes.

The timeline here is so fuzzy. You go back to 1991 or 1992 and see what shows up in the full ashtray of your cerebellum (is that a word?). Did Mike get us into this band first when he was working at Eagle Foods? Did Sean introduce us to the Popes at summer camp? No, it was more like some kind of hive-mind coincidence. Did we wrangle Mike's copy of the Innoculator 45 in some kind of flim flam deal involving a Will Clark rookie card, or did we buy our own? We remember it sitting there on the shelf of the C.L. outpost of Rose Records, in the Locals section. Smoking Popes Innoculator 45, for $2.50. We still have it to this day. We also remember the huge cut-out bin of LPs at Rose, in the back corner, including a copy of "This Is Our Music" that we nabbed for a buck! What were we thinking? What did we pass up in those bins so that we could buy U2's Achtung Baby and the Twin Peaks soundtrack??? That was around the same time Ellen Guss worked at Rose Records. We were so in love with Ellen Guss that when she talked to us we immmediately became unhuman. We were a throbbing gland system with our brain stems melting like wax until the end of the conversation (and we had yet to encounter Mr. William Burroughs, so you can tell how intense that was). Her co-worker at Rose was, of course, Josh Caterer of the Smokng Popes. So we probably bought the 45 from him. Embarrasing! At shows and over the course of the next few years, we bought all their homemade 45's. We still have them to this day (the theme sentence of this post, if you haven't noticed).

Over the course of the next few years, we followed the Popes hither and yon around Chicagoland to see them live. With Gauge at the skatepark in Hoffman Estates. With Groovy Love Vibes and Apocalypse Hoboken at some shit hole in Elgin. With No Empathy at another shit hole in the south burbs. Off The Alley, maybe? At the C.L. bandshell during 4th of July week. People said Josh Caterer was an amazing guitarist, which we now know is not true and never was true. Anyway, those brothers used to hang out at Around the Clock and around C.L. and they put out a full-length on Johann's Face called Get Fired that was the ultimate summer jam for a few years. We would see them with their really hot suburban mall girlfriends and wonder how they wrote such dazzlingly sad love songs when they were getting more hoo-hoo than toilet seats (or at least a lot more than we were in our falling-apart Vans covered in Replacements lyrics and "I hate the Grateful Dead tie-dye shirts), but we didn't wonder for too long.

The Popes signed to a major label for a heap of money and then our Moms knew who they were and they did four movie soundtracks (always during the credits, never the film itself), then Morrissey said he liked them, and NME big-upped them but noone really cared in the USA and eventually they took the major label swan dive into brutal obscurity, despite the protests of a handful of dumb rock critics, us not included. We saw them at the Bottle around this time, when their irrelevence was becoming inescapable, and actually snickered with our old friends who had once loved them when they mashed their way throught the "hits". We think we got a dirty stare from everyone in the band for yelling out a request for "Writing A Letter". It was a sad night, especially for the band. After that here were a few articles, mostly about Josh's religious conversion due to some kind of bad pot experience (!?). There was the time a few years later we rode the Metra from downtown CHILL to C.L. sitting behind Josh Caterer as he read the King James Bible the ENTIRE WAY HOME without raising his head once. Then Josh resurrected (no pun intended) another band with a name we can't recall that noone cared about, and we saw them maybe open for the Go-Go's? They sucked. But now people do care again? Creepy. The past is creepy and we are drudging like the Army Corps of Engineers. Maybe more on this later, maybe we'll drop it.

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jds said...

Nice post, thanks for the read/ride, slightly harrowing and bathetic as it was. Your honesty is a thing of wonder and at the end of the day, far from embarrassing, no kidding.

Never heard these Papal Smokers (now that's starting to sound like a venal sin if I've ever heard one), and after reading this piece, I think I shall remain content in my ignorance of their musical crimes in perpetuity throughout the universe, amen.

So you got me thinking about band war stories, especially mediocre ones or bands I once liked that now send me into a shame spiral just thinking on 'em. If I can dredge up any good 'uns, I just may share em here.

Oh, and I think it's obvious that you now have been charged with a divine duty to wage jihad against Victory Records & Hawthorne Heights ...

Anonymous said...

obviously you do not like the smoking popes anymore, and hey, i'm no arbiter of good taste... but why do you seem so dead set against them having a little fun and maybe reliving what were probably the best times of their lives?
i have no history with their music. before becoming roommates with two of the guys i couldn't have told you anything about them other than "i think they're pop-punk and used to be big in the midwest, right?" but i do think they could probably play a lot of bands right off the stage, especially those in their own genre or the glut of pop/emo/metal knobbers such as half of victory's current suck-roster. indeed they are not the new Animal Collective or whatever else the critics are riding these days, and i certainly am not claiming allegiance to the Smoking Popes back catalog as the gospel. didja catch that religious reference? regarding josh's faith, in the little time i've spent around him it's not been an issue, though i hear that he has been preachy and overly 'faith-encouraging' in the past.

upon re-reading, i'd say that you no longer like them because they got bigger than the little sphere around chicago and the burbs, and then quickly faded to obscurity for several years. all the hipsters currently wetting their shorts over anything Pitchfork gives more than an 8.0 will probably be repeating your sentiments in a few years over bands that weren't even their local idols.

since the conclusion they are a bunch of no-talent hacks now, and they've summarily ruined music, why do you still keep their records? i had no difficulty chucking whatever i thought was good in highschool and later realized sucked.

i think what's creepy is those dudes who are going to see the Popes now who never stopped believin', and probably didn't go a week without blasting Destination Failure on their way to the mall. i mean, who honestly likes the same thing with so much fervor for 10+ years? hella creepy.

jds said...

i'm probably to blame for emphasizing the "time has not judged these Smoking Popes kindly" angle in my previous comment, but i don't really think the "point" of JR's post was to rank on those guys and have some cruel laughs at their expense. i mean, maybe there was a little of that, i don't know, but to to me it matters not one whit whether the Smoking Popes were good (6.7) or great (8.2) or shite (3.6) by some imagined critical yardstick, as this was a story about "our" wayward youth, the maybe collective & unspoken misgivings some of us could share over lost days spent spinning worlds in our heads around something as dumb & big-scheme inconsequential as a rock band. to get caught up in nay-saying & one-upping & issuing apologias & exegeses at this late date would be somewhat tragic, don't ya think?

Anonymous said...

i took JR's original post was a mostly a long way of saying

"i used to like their music, but then they got big and disappeared, also i got older and my tastes changed, so now i can be snarky about them coming back."

which to me is the indie guy cop-out/double standard de riguer. i just think it's funny... most critics are so intent on being seen as the cool person you should take advice from, yet here he's exposed himself as someone who was at one time uncool?

and now it's fun to shun what you held dear in years past, i have no disagreement with that, i look back and think "holy shit, i thought i was cool then?" and in a few years i'll be doing that again.

the Popes are more than amazed that people still kinda give a shit about them or the music they made a decade ago. they're looking back on it with the same ironic nostalgia as you, me, and JR. the incredulous stupidity of many events and wasted time and money that pretty much added up to nothing, and i've heard the stories. Morissey barely said hello to them when they toured together, and was "a dick."

let 'em have their fun; it won't last as we all know.

Anonymous said...

Wow...just wow.

Hard to imagine that victory and the smoking popes somehow crashed together in 2006. If in 93 you were to say, pick a chicago band and a chicago label that would never, ever get together, i think this would have been my example.

And to somehow think that in some misguided way, I actually own records by both's a bit ironic that I cared so much at the time. I think that same point echos in the post. Fun times.

I will point out that you can sell those records in a lot on ebay with one decent emo gem and cash out, much as I have.

I hold nothing against Victory for trying to take over the world, or for the smoking popes to pick up a buck at this late date, but all the same, if there was gonna be a circa 93 band revival, I would push for Heel to resurrect themselves. Then again, that is probably just me. Second choice: 8 Bark.

Thanks for the funny read.

Mike said...

Me, I've been listening to a lot of Skinny Puppy.

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