BROKEN TALENT: One Malcontent's Story June 24 2015
I first talked to Malcolm about doing this record way back in 2008. Right around that time life got topsy turvy and Malcolm and I kind of lost touch. A few years later water started finding level, my vision began to clear, and this record once again became a priority. Malcolm and I got back into contact and Malcolm began digging through the vaults and tracking down old band members to get their perspective on the band. All the while I spent my time stamping my life away waiting for his return. Well here we are 7 years after this whole process started and it's finally a reality. Malcolm gave me a bunch of really great liner notes but due to a lack or room and a dwindling budget we were limited to a front and back inner sleeve. Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to post the liner notes from the record and all of the stuff that got left on the cutting room floor. I'm so pumped on this record, and can't wait for people to hear it. It's got me so motivated I've even began working on the next two Floridas Dead releases. I'll see you all again in another 7. In the meantime this really is a hardcore classic, and I hope the world is finally ready to take in the genius of Broken Talent.
BROKEN TALENT: One Malcontent's Story
In the beginning, there was Palm Springs North, an all- white suburb in unincorporated Northwest Dade County, FL. I hated it there. I was surrounded by rednecks, reactionary Cubans, dying geriatrics, and normal people of all sorts.
When punk rock found me (via a late night news report on TV), I was compelled to share it with the weird dude who sat behind me in 9th grade chemistry class. He knew nothing about music but he was receptive to cultural corruption. I could tell him about Devo, Ramones, The Clash, Elvis Costello, and/ or a million others without getting laughed at or beaten up. It was pretty cool.
In 10th grade, he had the idea that we should put a band together and play the Freaky Funky Follies (AKA the school talent show). He rounded up a few people who knew how to play instruments (which we did not) and we all kind of learned “God Save The Queen”. He sang, I “played” bass. We called ourselves THE PUNKS. Oddly enough, it seemed to go over well. From there it devolved into trying to learn “Another Brick In The Wall” because that’s what the musicians were into. That’s what I was not into. End of band attempt.
Flash forward to the first year of college. My chemistry class friend is attending the University of Florida. I’m still in Palm Springs North. One boring weekend, some friends and I drove to U of F for a visit. Turns out it was just as boring up there as it was back home. One evening, in our boredom, my friend suggested that we jam on a few tunes. He had the same cheap bass guitarin the we used in The Punks sitting in the closet so I picked it up and started thumping around on it. Since we didn’t know how to play any real songs, we came up with a few ditties of our own- “Blood Slut” and “My God Can Beat Up Your God” among them.
It was a fun way to kill an evening and I promptly forgot about it. The next year, my friend transferred from U of F to the University of Miami, which is way closer to Palm Springs North. We started hanging out and he started talking about forming a band. I had nothing else to do and it sounded like fun so I was into it.
Obviously, since we were now a band, we needed to get a gig. He and I went into his mom's garage and repeated our Gainesville weekend trick. We floundered around on a couple of “songs”, recorded them onto cassette, and sent the cassette to a club. Lo and behold! The owner booked us for a show.
It suddenly occurred to us that we might need somebody to help us be a band. I knew a dude in unincorporated Southwest Broward County (20 minutes and a galaxy away) who owned a guitar and apparently could play it. He hated Broward as much as we hated Dade, so he was in.
Now arose the problem that would plague us until the end. The drummer problem. We didn't know anybody who wanted to be a drummer. We asked everyone we knew. No volunteers nowhere- Dade or Broward.
Time was running short. With a week to go, our friend's sister, who had never picked up a drumstick in her life (unless it was attached to a chicken or purchased from an ice cream truck), volunteered to do the dirty deed. We jammed with her once. She was able to hit the top of the drum with the stick. She was in.
Meanwhile, we told the club people that our name was “Broken Palate”. When we saw the flyer, it said “Broken Talent”. We shrugged and decided that we were stuck with the name.
We arrived at the club (which had just opened and was called Flynn's) with our cheap made- in- Taiwan gear and set up on the stage (which was built onto the end of the bar).
The club owner, an artist named Howard Davis, wanted to hear us play a number or two. We all looked at each other with grave apprehension. We hadn't counted on this. Howard insisted, so we played the one song that we all kind of knew- “Mongoloid” by Devo. We made it through the song, but Howard looked somewhat nonplussed. For reasons unknown, he decided to let us play.
And we were willing to, except that our friend's sister chickened out before showtime. I can't say I blame her, really. We put out an appeal to the audience and luckily there was a guy out there who could play the drums. Suddenly, we were a band again. Off we went, into the unknown wilderness of our set. One couple made a game effort to dance. Howard was not too happy, but he was resigned. After all, this was Miami Beach and nothing was happening anywhere. At least this was something.
Somehow we made it through the set. After it was over, the guy who played drums disappeared. We never saw him again.
Back in our respective suburbs, we decided that our guitarist was too much of a nice guy. Plus his playing was a bit conventional. He wrote a blues song about how his shoes were too big. “Shoes Blues”, he called it. We knew we needed someone more abnormal, both in temperament and in chops.
My friend from chemistry class (who, by the way, was our singer and was named Santo) made some inquiries amongst family friends and found a young hippy lady whose name was Cat. I don;t know what kind of music she was into, but she had her own drum kit and she was game for some noisemaking. I switched to guitar, which I honestly did not know how to play. Our friend Jill stood in on bass, which she honestly did not know how to play. Suddenly, we were a band again.
I don't know how, but Santo scored us a return gig at Flynn's.There was a new promoter there named Richard Shelter. We played with a bunch of hardcore bands and had a bottle thrown at us. I guess they didn't like our Flipper and Devo covers. Or our originals, which sounded like Flipper playing Devo. Badly. Richard was not too happy with us, but he paid us anyway. This is when we thought we might be on to something.
Except we still neded a band. Jill was temporary and I could sort of play the bass so it was more practical for me to switch back. Santo inquired around the University and uncovered a professor's nephew named Mark. Mark didn't work a job and had no particular place to live. He was fixated on Flipper and the New York Dolls. He chain smoked Lucky Strikes (filterless) because there was a pack of Luckys on the cover of the first Dolls album. One of his few possessions was a cheap made- in-Taiwan guitar. His days were spent doing absolutely nothing. He was our man. Suddenly, we were a band again.
We rehearsed a bunch at the University. The four of us and our cheap gear would smoosh into one of the glass rehearsal booths which were designed for one or two solo instrumentalists. We didn't have to pay to use those. We worked up a number of tunes and gamely kept trying to play them right.
After the Flynn's fiasco, gigs were impossible to find. We promoted a couple of guerilla shows at the University and they were fun, but we couldn't get away with that too often. Santo decided that if we had a vinyl record it would be easier to get bookings. To that end, we assembled in Cat's living room on New Year's Day, 1984. Her brother had a mixer and a couple of microphones. We had a reel to reel recorder from the early 1960's and a bunch of tapes (same vintage). We also had three songs that we thought we could play well enough to make into a record.
Cat's brother was all hung over from the previous night and we were nervous as hell as we played those three songs over and over until we got a take of each that was acceptable. Live to two track. No overdubs or funny stuff. Later, Santo and I sat in his dorm room and chose the best versions of each song. He copied them onto another ancient reel of tape.
I took the reel to a pressing plant that Santo found in Hialeah. I don't remember if it was the only pressing plant in town, but it was certainly the cheapest. They had a huge hopper of ground up disco singles. They'd melt the chunks of vinyl and use them to press new records. The engineer let me sit in while he cut the lacquer for our records. The dude was a chain smoker. I clearly remember him blowing smoke all over our lacquer while he was cutting it (look up “how to cut a lacquer” to see if this is a good thing to do or not).
A few weeks later, records in hand, we went to a print shop (the cheapest one in Hialeah) and made covers. My mom begrudgingly printed the inserts at her job. Suddenly, we had a record. And sure enough, it was a lot easier to get gigs- such as there were in South Florida.
We played wherever and whenever we could. We also rehearsed wherever and whenever we could, which wasn't very often. We were all broke. Mark didn't drive. None of lived near each other. Getting together for a jam session was difficult. Thus, our gigs tended to be shambolic. We didn't completely fall apart on stage too often, but we were usually on the verge. But it seems we had enough attitude to pull it off.
A fair number of punk rock misfits in South Florida seemed to dig our noise. We called it HANGcore (Hardcore Art Noise Grunge core). We called our friends and fans the Broken Talent Auxilliary Corps. We hung out and examined the other bands in the scene. There really was a sense of something happening in the air; not just for us, but for all of the bands and people involved. Our little scene was an oasis in the cultural/ social/ philosophical wasteland of South Florida.
And that was nice, but I didn't think that remaining in South Florida would get us anywhere. I was born with a chronic case of road fever and being in a band gave me the motivation to plan some temporary escape. I bought the latest issue of Maximumrocknroll and started combing the scene reports. Anyone in the South who promoted shows got a phone call from me. All of a sudden, we had a little tour booked.
It was short and mostly sweet. Several of the Broken Talent Auxilliary Corps came along for the ride. We traveled in two cars and did all the great things bands do on tour. We got lost, overstayed our welcome, went broke, made friends, butted heads with promoters, ate at Stuckey's, and played a few shows. All with Santo's cassette of “Enema In Bondage”, which he purchased at South Of The Border's “Dirty Old Man Shoppe”, blasting in the car cassette deck. To this day, I can't drive through North Carolina without hearing the sounds of gurgling water and feminine moaning.
This was Cat's last ride with Broken Talent. After it was over, she moved to California to pursue a career in screen writing. I wonder if she made it? Anyway, we were again without a drummer. But that wouldn't stop us! We played shows using friends and members of the Auxiliary Corps on drums. Some knew how to play, others didn't. Was it suppposed to matter? This was punk rock, after all.
We carried on shambolically this way for a few months until a young lad from North Miami answered a flyer I had posted at Open Books And Records. Enter Shayne Sicpup El Duce Hansen. He was a few years younger than we were and (he told me many years later) had never played drums in his life. Fooled us! He was at least as musically ept as we were, so he was in.
He was also as broke, carless, and bereft of gear as we were. So trying schedule rehearsals did not become any easier. We kept writing songs, though, and we jammed when and where we could.
We also played out when and where we could, which to me, wasn't often enough. So ion the summer of 1985, a year after our first trip out of town, I used the MRR method to book another tour, all the way up to Albany, NY and back.
This time it was just the four of us in my 1972 Dodge. I borrowed my friend Lonnie's bass (without telling him) just for the occasion. He had a real Fender as opposed to my Taiwanese piece of balsa. Santo made a bass cabinet out of some plywood and a Radio Shack speaker. Mark had a guitar: a Les Paul with part of the fretboard cut off. A friend of Santo's lent us a Fender amp and never reclaimed it so we put it in the trunk (which leaked). No drums, though. We figured we'd deal with that at the shows.
So what did we do on this tour? Ran out of gas in West Virginia, ran out of food in Pittsburgh, ran out of money in several places, got ripped off by a history teacher (who promised to pay us for attending a lecture and the skipped out on us), got fed by an 80 year old Mae West wannabe in Brooklyn, etc etc. We also played a few shows, with bands like The Freeze, Cro Mags, Token Entry, Saint Vitus, and the almighty Black Flag (the story of how we got on that bill is a story unto itself).
We also spent a week in NYC (first time for most of us. What an experience!) and made a bunch of friends, some of whom I'm in touch with to this day.
When we returned to South Florida we had morphed into a tight and powerful band. We played exactly one show as a tight and powerful band before we got rid of Shayne. The generation gap just could not be bridged. This, of course, led to another frustrating period without a drummer. Jah knows we tried and tried and tried but we just could not find a drummer who was consistent, available, or not a drug addict.
We played the odd show here and there with fill- ins, but by now, things were unravelling. Santo was immersed in his studies, Mark was permanently unemployed, and Cindy, our best prospect for a drummer, quit after recording a demo with us.
During this static period, my friend Todd discovered an English pub in the Little Haiti section of Miami called Churchill's. He talked the owner into letting him do a show there. He wanted Broken Talent to headline and it seemed like a fun gig, so we decided to do it.
My youngest brother Brian was an excellent jazz/ metal/ glam drummer. I begged him to play this one show with us and he agreed to. His band (Cheri) had a rehearsal studio in Hialeah. We got together a few times and tried to hammer out a set, which was difficult because Santo never showed up. One day, a week before the big gig, Brian and I arrived at the studio, ready to work. Santo no- showed. Then Mark no- showed. People seemed to dig our slovenly demeanor on stage, but I preferred the tight and powerful sound. I did not want to play another sloppy wreck of a gig so I no- showed. Forever. And that was that.
So here we are, 30- ish years later. I'm amazed and gladdened the people still remember our music and still want to hear it. When I tour with my solo acoustic punk rock schtick, people still ask to hear “Blood Slut”, “My God Can Beat Up Your God', and others. I actually have a mini Broken Talent set that I do sometimes. The songs play well on acoustic and people seem to dig 'em. So maybe we were wrong all those years ago when we said “BROKEN TALENT RULES NO ONE”.