A Ten Question Q&A with GREGG TURNER Hold it! HOLD IT!!! Now I know y’all are miffed thinking that I’ve shirked my responsibility and neglected to update this thing, but, truth be told, this week’s installment has had me flustered; completely bogged down in a viscous mire of gee, shucks-isms and bashful slavering even. It’s hard trying to play it cool around a guy whose band I consider to be an aesthetic litmus test. The very same outfit responsible for turning out innumerable classic tunes—songs that most closely resemble Dadaist cartoons stripped down and essentialized to their core fundament. Fortunately, Gregg Turner’s proven to be an affable, cool dude who dispenses with the kind of articulate, caustic and concise responses befitting an esteemed professor of the maths. What are your early recollections of meeting up with other Los Angeles-area weirdos and what led up to the formation of VOM? It’s been suggested that I’ve been magnetized (inadvertently) to the trail of loons. I admit to finding eccentricity in most flavors appealing and/or entertaining (why I thoroughly enjoyed math faculty in graduate school); However, very few of these I’ve intentionally pursued with radar or cross-hairs (some exceptions: Roky Erickson of course, and most certainly the time Sky Saxon was spotted hiding in the bushes in a purple cape at Six Flags Magic Mountain when the Seeds were at the last minute scuttled from the lineup of 60’s fossil-rockers ready to play a revival show in the park’s auditorium).
Though, having qualified this, I must confess to a protracted hunt for human pathology for production of a radio show which I moderated and created here in Santa Fe, NM back in 1996. E.g., I discovered an alien abductee in Roswell, NM who was s’posedly pulled up over 100 times. I asked her on the air if she’d been administered a rectal probe: “as a matter of fact, yes,” she shot back. “Yes, they did that.” I asked her if she’d be so kind as to graphically outline the procedure for our listeners—previously only alluded to in general terms by Whitley Strieber in his abduction tome Communion; still, specific procedural details were missing. So when pressed, she recounted the whole shebang, she didn’t need to be, uhm, prodded to launch into the graphic details. When I asked her if they gave her a lollipop or whatever for being such a good sport, she recalled that afterward they led her into the spaceship’s “auditorium;” she was directed to a chair in “some stage area”. Then “they gave me a telepathic alien orgasm” (ostensibly as a reward for rectal intrusive compliance). Turns out, the complimentary O ultimately spelled trouble for her marriage. Her husband, she maintained, couldn’t “do it like the aliens—y’know, w/out touching me—tho he’d concentrate very hard, until his face turned red, but nothing really happened. In fact, I felt a bit repulsed watching his face turn so red, concentrating like that—it did absolutely nothing for me.” The station manager, it turned out that this was the one show he’d caught, was livid, ranting that you can’t say “telepathic alien orgasm” on Sunday afternoon in Santa Fe. Subsequent searches for equally lost souls produced a woman expertise in administering caffeine enemas (organic espresso roast), one to a “fat” prominent politician. And so forth.
Uhm, apologies for the digression, but I guess the point is that before I moved out to New Mexico, apparitions and personal encounters from within the ether of such scrambled psyches were considerably less abundant.
And for a fact, Vom really was not an assembly of crazies per se. I’d met Mike Saunders as far back as 1973 (VOM emerged, so to speak, in 1976). He’d been disseminating copies of his one-shot fanzine called (ironically) Brain Damage which at the time essentially served as a parody of local writers and scenesters. Saunders was an odd guy from the get-go, he’d put a blanket over one of the two speakers from his stereo to (he thought) effectively create mono (most cheapy stereo systems back then had a stereo to mono switch—but this seemingly was ignored for the blanket and speaker option). He’d plug his guitar thru the system, and run thru a repertoire of Marc Bolan imitations (which actually weren’t half bad!). So increasingly we’d x paths and share laughs from that point on. Saunders somehow got a copy of a CBS demo tape the Dictators cut (pre- Go Girl Crazy), and he was downright evangelical playing this for anyone and everyone that would listen. Plus he and I shared fanaticism for the Elevators and Roky. It really was the emergence of this hybrid that spawned the creative nexus for the Samoans and to some degree VOM. Funny, cos it’s hard to imagine an amalgam of the Dics and Roky, but that was the synthesis of what became the Samoans. VOM leaned heavier on the Tators, but borrowed inspiration from the Weirdos and other LA seminal punk rock bands of the era. In fact, not-yet but soon-to-be VOM lead crooner Richard Meltzer and I, somewhere in the dawn of 1976, caught a set of the Weirdos at the Variety Arts Center in downtown LA. While the Weirdos jammed live, Richard suddenly bolted to the floor, and started moving around sorta like Weirdo singer John Denny, but more spastic in pogo affectations! It was a riot, and as he was punk-rocking out on the dance floor, he kept yelling to me “see I can do it too,” or something of similar ilk. That moment on the dance floor was physically and metaphorically the incipient spark of VOM. Absolutely no turning back. We immediately recruited some cronies to play instruments, and Meltzer and I started thinking about “tunes.” Eventually Saunders was brought in for his ten creative cents. Wasn’t long before we had top 10 winners the likes of I’m In Love With Your Mom, Electrocute Your Cock, and so forth.
One particularly fond memory: One day, Richard and I marched down to Compton, CA (low rent, appropriately unhappy pissed-on citizens) in search of Rainbow Mealworm and Bait Company. Turns out, they had huge jars of “bronco worms” (cos they “bucked” several feet off the ground!), crawfish, Just a myriad supply of gelatinous critters and organic animal viscera. All viable, we thought, for live show props (ie tossing from stage onto (as opposed to into) the audience). Richard really looked like he was floating on air when we spotted the fresh frozen sheep eyeballs. After all, he penned the lyrics to Blue Oyster Cult’s Harvester of Eyes. On the VOM coat he crafted for performance wear, he fastened one eyeball to each button, a defacto eye-vine. But it was really the bronco worms that freaked everyone out. We’d clear out entire rooms with those. We had one song called I Live With the Roaches, so of course we were on the prowl for those too. But the Bait Company only had crickets. So we got lots and lots of crickets, these rather humongous boxes doubling as cricket Holiday Inns. Crickets were unleashed at the end when we did Roaches, but the club owners just went nuts from the chirping. I’d always offer that it made their room sound outdoorsy and bucolic, but no-one ever bought that, nor claims of performance art that (as such) should remain intact! So invariably we’d have to stay a while, a really long while after the set, trying to gather all the unleashed chirpers. This was often a daunting task.
Did you know that VOM was the only band, beside the Doors, that got 86’d off the stage (mid-set) of the Whisky A Go-Go ? The PA guy shut off the power, then blared out one of the speakers he’d left on, “I got rid of that asshole Morrison, and now you creeps are going the same direction. GET OFF MY STAGE !!!” No doubt a high watermark to retell great grandchildren. We’d been headlining two shows at the Whisky for two consecutive nights, the Dickies were the opening act if you can believe. The first night my folks actually showed up and my father was pogo-ing in the middle of the milieu on the dance floor. At one point Meltzer hurled a bag of cooked spaghetti in the air and it landed on dad’s head. He thought that was great (so I’m told). The second night was when we got canned. Our rhythm guitarist was this huge burly guy, Guzman, who routinely knocked his guitar way out of tune, frequently on the first swipe of the first song. When we were told to scram mid-set, Guzman just refused to leave, shaking a clenched fist at the anonymous PA dude. It looked like he had barfed on his guitar, not a pretty sight. He had to be escorted off the stage. Then we were gone and only the crickets chirping were the audible remnants (they were way po’d about that too!).
Who were your favorite bands in the early LA punk scene and what bands were the most fun to play with?
I really dug the Alley Cats, early Weirdos, Bags, Controllers, FEAR, Black Flag with Keith as singer (each subsequent singer, it seemed, made the band progressively more irrelevant—esp Henry Rollins, who was (and is) just the very bottom of the creative well) and the LAST. I agree with Ronn Spencer (whom you previously interviewed) that X made punk rock safe for hippies. The Frisco bands, Crime, the Nuns, they were pretty rockin too, somehow in a much darker vein. Too much heroin. The thing was, circa 1976, punk rock (and I don’t mean hard core) was as revolutionary a force in music and kulture as anything that jumped out of the 60’s. Suddenly hippies were squares with long hair (as Andy Shernoff perceptively noted in 1975 Go Girl Crazy’s Master Race Rock) and by the turn of that decade, hair bands, drum solos and pot-nostalgia became a universal embarrassment. Punk-rock cum hard core was as much an upheaval as flower-power had been in its time. The Stones and status-quo arena bands were put on the defensive, Donovan wouldn’t dare show his face in the Mabuhay Gardens or CBGB’s.
As far as playing with other bands, an interesting point of trivia, is that the Samoans headlined on bills with opening acts the likes of Green Day, the Offspring, Stone Temple Pilots, Bad Religion and so forth. I personally never cared for any of these outfits and less so when they opened the shows we played. Nevertheless, I guess they got the last laugh.
What are your recollections of the following clip?
Richard Casey produced and directed the whole shebang of the Vom video vignettes (and the 2 Sam vids as well). The drummer in the vids was Kevin Saunders, Mike’s bro freshly imported from Little Rock, AR. Kevin never actually performed for real in VOM, he was just a stand in for his brother. Older sibling Metal Mike refused to be captured on film, saying he was concerned about possible job reprisals (he specialized in accounting at mental hospitals) should his superiors ever get a glimpse (like VOM was on the rotation at MTV, or his “superiors” would be watching). The bass player was Meltzer’s galfriend, Irene. I, uhm, was hooded with the shirt and then strapped with the whitecoat in Mom and Too Animalistic. I think you can find Vom vids for Punkmobile and Electrocute Your Cock on YouTube also. In the outro of Animalistic, where Mr. Vom’s leading me away on the sand with a leash, I think Casey made us do more than several takes of that.
What kinda heat did you get for the inflammatory Get Off the Air and did the band ever get directly confronted by Rodney?
The sequence of how this played out is somewhat fuzzy now. Shit hit the proverbial fan before Inside My Brain (which included GOTA) was released, so it must have been from live gigs before this that word got out. Pretty sure of this, cos when we were recording the Brain EP in Redondo Beach at Spot’s studio (where Black Flag, the Last, and most of the South Bay beach bands recorded), FEAR’s Lee Ving had been showing up for production duties. Suddenly he stopped showing, and word filtered down that Rodney (or surrogates, it’s hard to imagine someone so inept capable of manipulating anything) was issuing cease and desist threats to Lee and FEAR. Also, Meltzer (post-VOM), under the pen name Audie Murphy Jr., put out an interview in Slash magazine which prominently featured the words to the song. Again, I can’t recall if this came out before or after Brain was released. In any case, when we wrote the lyrics (I came up with the idea and several trial verses, Saunders morphed at least half of these—that was the usual ritual of collaboration), we thought they were so patently silly, that nobody could possibly take offense. Not that it really mattered if anyone did in fact take offense, that was not a concern either. To be honest, we had nothing personal against Bingenheimer. But he was emblematic of the entire Hollywood/LA cult of starfuck do-nothings that garnered attention by being a disposable link in the incestuous ladder to fame and fortune. Not much diff from LA’s celluloid legacy. I mean, Rodney for all intents and purposes, was the Paris Hilton of his day (minus the resources and inheritance), somehow winding up behind a radio microphone, barely able to pull off an on-air interview. One minute he’s Mr. English Disco on the Sunset Strip, promoting adulation of Rod Stewart and David Bowie, the next instant he’s changed clothes and pledging allegiance to the Ramones. This was the ultimate vacuous icon, an empty shell disseminating odious doses of adulation and fame worship. A groupie for all seasons. Have you seen Mayor of Sunset Strip? I think the only one who comes off more pathetic than the “mayor” is Kim Fowley. I regret not writing a song about him.
Anyway, instead of celebrating this joyous, albeit a tad malevolent, ode to himself as emerging p-rock DJ king of the hill, he freaks out and feigns offense, recruiting allegiance and sympathy from other equally sycophantic bands, writers and booking agents—all for this nefarious assault on his character. The truth of the matter was that no-one could take issue with anything the song claimed, Rodney was understood as an imbecile, but this was perceived as an attack on the scene per se. And on a more pedestrian level, most of these bands and agents voicing support for Rodney were complete whores to the 20 seconds of radio time he’d lavish on them on KROQ. X, as I recall, pledged that they’d never play on a bill with us. And others quickly lined up to echo the loyalty oath. Eventually we couldn’t play any of the regular clubs in LA, the Starwood, Whisky, etc and only the outlying skate and newly-dubbed hardcore gigs became available. These were way out in Whittier and Long Beach, for example, some in nasty areas. We were initially a little nervous about doing these, our songs at that point weren’t nearly as nihilistic or turbocharged as say Suicidal Tendencies. Out of self-preservation, we decided to triple time the tempos, which ultimately provided the mosh-pit nod. Strange metamorphosis.
Rodney never confronted the band directly. But his lawyer, Jay Jenkins, who was also managing X at the time, wrote us several letters threatening to take away all of our equipment if we continued to “play that song.”
He can’t read and he can’t talk
He’s LA’s favorite punk rock jock
Glitter bands and Bowie’s cock
Are his idea of new wave rock
You’re just a fucking piece of shit now Rodney
I don’t think you’re so hot
You make me laugh with those clothes you wear
And those lamebrain teeth you’ve got
Get off the air, get off the air
You pathetic male groupie, you don’t impress me
Get off the air, you fucking square
You’re just a jerk as far as I can see
8 pm and Rodney’s on the air
He’s beating off in Joan Jett’s hair
Christmas Eve and whattya got
4 hours of Phil Spector rot
You’re just a fucking piece of shit now Rodney …..
Pretty tame, dontcha think?
Is there truth to the myth that Jerry Curlan was a childhood acquaintance of yours and that your mother's constant comparison to Mssr. Curlan is what provoked that savage attack? Do you think Jerry ever found out about the accusations of him being a toilet drinking queer?
My younger brother, he must have been 16 or so at the time. Jerry Curlan was a neighborhood friend of his from way back. In fact, the real spelling was, I believe, Gerry Kurland (this has never been revealed before – so you have a first!). Sam bassist Todd “the hippie stabber” Homer and I were watching TV in the den of my folks’ North Hollywood pad. It was a Jim Jones flick, there’s so many now I can’t remember exactly which version. The one with Powers Boothe. And Boothe as cult leader Jones was ordering everyone in the compound to “drink the Koolaid. Close your eyes and drink the Koolaid.” Todd and I were just holding our stomachs, laughing like manic hyenas. I mean, there was something just so absurd about depicting this on film, selling the drama as a wanna-be biopic. My mom was sitting on the couch in the living room and couldn’t figure out what was so hilarious. At the commercial, we filled her in, and she kept sayin over and over “why can’t you appreciate ‘good’ things, happy stories. Why can’t you be involved with nice pursuits like your brother’s friend Gerry Kurland?” A fair question, Gerry Kurland for sure wouldn’t have drunk any Koolaid nor been near the Guyana jungle where Jonestown was rooted. Gerry Kurland was, in fact, a very nice guy, a Senate page in his summer off hours, excellent student, blah blah blah. And I had absolutely nothing against him. It was just the context offered that begged rebuttal (never a bad thing to have a second side of the story). So I immediately reached for a notepad and pen and pursued mom’s infatuation with the Kurland life style. Uhm, what again do you admire about him? “Well, he’s nice, he goes to Washington, he’s a very kind and social type.” And so forth. So that was the verse. Only suitable to follow with “suck’s horsey dick, take’s it up the ass, buttfucks his mother, etc.” Proudly, it was the most retarded thing I’d ever come up with. Having Todd sing the words, crooning the verses pro-Gerry (Jerry) like Frank Sinatra, and then ranting like a psychotic firehose in the chorus-reply was, I thought, over the top! Really, no-one could have pulled off the vokes but Toddy. The chorus rage is, I think, metaphorically for real. Honest demonic angst that followed Todd around 24/7. When we recorded the tune originally up in Marin County at Stu Cook’s (Creedence Clearwater bass player) home studio, Stu and his young kid were there to take the whole thing in. By the time the only take of Curlan was finished, they’d long split, apparently the kid started crying and freaking out as Todd went Frankenstein in the vocal booth! “1 take” because Mr. Todd was pretty inebriated, and by the time the gasps and groans were finished at the end, so was Todd. He’d passed on the floor, and the microphone veritably down his throat. So what you hear in the last waning moments of the song on record, is suffocation, mike and mike-chord asphyxiation.
I’ve been told that the real Gerry Kurland did, in fact, find out about the song and wasn’t thrilled. He’s an attorney, but never pursued legal vindication.
The Angry Samoans are responsible for one of the most brilliant intros to any song in the history of recorded music (You took your clothes off / I started to laugh). What are your personal favorite Samoans songs? Do you think that the lyrics to Homosexual would've bummed Darby out?
My favorite Sam’s top 40 hit-parade tune is Hitler’s Cock; I think that If Hitler’s cock could choose its mate, it would ask for Sharon Tate is the best thing I’ve ever scribed, quite proud of that one. The metaphor just screams out from the vinyl (or cd).
Homo-sexual was never meant to be a gay-baiting song a la FEAR and so forth. It wasn’t pro-homo or anti-homo, more like ambivalent-homo. But we got into trouble for this one as well. Oedipus was the reigning DJ at WBCN in Boston. He was gay, and he took offense. When I was interviewed by the MIT radio station (when we were in Beantown to play some dates) I explained that if anyone cared to inspect the song credits on the vinyl, the tune was credited to “J. Falwell.” The tirade was directed as parody per gay-hating miscreants, we’d hoped that the Falwell ref would make that queer, er, I mean clear…. After the show we were apparently deemed kosher by Oedipus who turned out to be a very savvy dude (unlike his counterpart on the west coast).
Darby Crash was, in fact, a Homo-sexual, not that that needed clarification or recrimination, that wasn’t the point. We just wanted to needle the Hollywood folks again. Still, lots of Germs followers were pretty po’d at the appropriation of Darby. I know it’s grossly unhip to say this, but I found the Germs profoundly dull. Would the lyrics have bummed Darby out? It’s hard for me to imagine anything bumming that guy out above and beyond the torment he appeared to live day to day.
What's the deal with Jeff Dahl joining the band and how long did that last? What made Metal Mike leave?
Saunders, I can’t recall the exact year, early 80’s, after Brain was released and before Samoa came out, procured a better accounting gig up north in Oakland, CA. I don’t think leaving the band behind was the slightest factor in his mind. We auditioned several folks to replace him, but Jeff Dahl (who’d been in Vox Pop and 45 Grave) seemed the closest fit. His take was a little more theatrical and Stiv Bators-ish than the persona Saunders offered. Saunders was more ironic and deadpan. But probably Dahl was the better entertainer by a landslide. He’d hang on rafters and swing, shrieking the words like a wounded animal. Lots of fun. Jeff stayed with the band for close to two years. And actually, when we were putting down the basic trax at Stu Cook’s studio, Jeff was with us and recorded several vocals which were excellent.
I can’t recall why exactly Mike returned to the lineup. He was living in Hayward, CA (low rent version of Oakland)—he came to see us play with Dahl. This was a show in Frisco, and maybe the first big audience we’d played to (“big” at this point in tyme would be, say, about 60 folks!). Our set seemed to resonate, Jeff was pretty hot, and the audience ate it up. That seemed to turn Saunders head, who all of a sudden believed the band could accrue a following. He and I had maintained contact throughout the period he went AWOL and he seemed to hinting he might be interested in returning. I’m pretty certain that he was profoundly jealous of Dahl.
Over the next several months, it appeared to me at the time that the Saunders weasel-persona was missed. He and I wrote most of the songs together (or separately) and his character seemed so imbued into the cartoons, lyrics and chords, that something felt missing. Dahl was bigger than life and terrific, but I think I felt at the time that it just wasn’t what we set out to do, the depiction of the band live had lost the irony. Looking back, this was stupid. Should have kept Jeff. Saunders and I just had so much history putting the whole thing together, it seemed at the time like the right move.
The minute he returned to replace Dahl (so we had to re-record all the Dahl vocals) it became progressively like hell on earth. We had to cover, as a band expense, all the plane flights from Oakland to LA just to rehearse. That became pretty expensive so we ditched the rehearsing and played essentially the same set for over 3 years.
I was the one who’d lobbied for his return, Todd and drummer Vockeroth didn’t really want any part of him. It took me a while to convince them. But later on, as travel expenses mounted, Vockeroth was livid with having to repay him any of this. Ironic that the “new” version of the Samoans now circulating contains Saunders and Vockeroth as the only original members. I can’t tell you how much Vockeroth hated Saunders’ guts, how many phone calls that went on for fuckin ever I had invest in to mediate between Saunders, Homer and Vockeroth. The last official gig we played in 1991 at the Club Lingerie, Saunders’ car broke down somewhere on his way home to the Bay Area. He argued that there’s an implicitly understood radius of “100 miles from a gig” that if damage or costs are involved to a band member, it’s a reimbursable expense! Don’t ask me what Rock Band Bill of Rights this was lifted from, but again, Todd and Billy went crazy and totally refused to give him a cent. I had less of a problem with this (as with most expenses he incurred by virtue of his Hayward habitat. Vockeroth was so mad, he wouldn’t talk to Saunders and I’m sure would’ve annihilated him had he the chance. The antipathy at this juncture in tyme became insurmountable and we essentially disintegrated after that Lingerie show.
What, if any, music interests you these days? Are you into Nelson, Green Day and Hillary Duff, too?
I won’t comment on Mike’s fixation on pre- and post-pubescent adolescent girls. I’ve heard that the walls of his house are plastered with Britney and Hillary Duff posters.
Green Day opened for us in Petaluma at some humongous theater. It was packed to the gills, but clear that most of the packing was for Green Day! After their set, you could spot many open seats. They had throngs of high schools girls screaming like they were the Beatles. But to be honest, always thought their material sounds like second rate Clash. Never have been a big fan. They just don’t seem terribly original.
However, I must confess, that one band I do like a lot is Death Cab for Cutie. Honest. Half of their recorded material is rather dull and self-indulgent, but the half that’s good is very good. Really well crafted pop songs and nice harmonies. Plans isn’t quite as consistent as Transatlanticism, but a lot of the early material is cleverly put together. Most of my friends think they’re inordinately wussy and boring, so what do I know? On some of the tunes, the singer (as well as the arrangement) sounds like Al Stewart (Year of the Cat) ecchhhhhhh (vomit). Nevertheless, they’ve become pretty huge these days, we’ll see if they can continue to issue material as consistent.
In ten words or less, what's your impression of the following song?
Sounds somewhere between the old Generation X and the Ramones. Can’t decipher the words too well, cept for the title! Very bubblegummy w/Johnny Ramone chording. Ooops, exceeded my 10 word limit I think.
What’s up with the Angry Samoans? Are there any plans for unearthing previous recordings?
I haven’t spoken to or contacted Saunders since that gig in 1991. He became impossible to talk to, and equally impossible to continue mediating the level of insanity between Mike and Vockeroth. I was just finishing my Ph.D. dissertation at the time, and attempting to massage 10-yr old emotional peaks and valleys and assorted psychopathology, it just became too much of an overload. So much for the famed 100-mile radius!
After the breakup then, he issued a handful of solo 4-song cd’s, some of which was not too bad. But I think they sold collectively like 20 copies. His ego seems to be wrapped around crowds of adoring 14-year olds, so somewhere in the mid/late 90’s decided to appropriate the band name once again, playing out with a confederate lineup of shills. Eventually, and this I find to be quite funny, the only original member he was able to recruit back into the fold, was the one who wanted to eviscerate him earlier—Vockeroth (I guess drummer gigs are hard to find these days)! I think they’ve put out a couple of CD’s as the Samoans. All have apparently received pretty dismal reviews (the ones I’ve seen anyway). What I listened to on the first one, I think that came out in 98 or something close, was a collection of Ramones borrowings, ostensibly offered as original creations. Hard to believe the well has gone this dry for Metal Mike. Hard to believe that in his mid-50’s he’s entertaining young children with the same old tired stuff. I personally think there would be more integrity in putting on a clown suit and juggling dishes at birthday parties for the same age group.
The Queer Pills - The Depraved EP (Homophobic, 1981)
Stupid Jerk / Time to Fuck / The Todd Killings
They Saved Hitler's Cock