We were a fringe group of outsider intellectual geeks and freaks who felt disdain for the Bicentennial patriotism mawkishly hawked in the era of Watergate corruption and couldn’t care less about any macho rock band befouling a perfectly good arena. So the 6 of us would gather every morning before classes and joke about whatever crossed our minds. Ahead of the curve, I had purchased “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” when it first came out, and quickly became an intense fan of the London punk scene. It was like an exotic world on another planet that communicated with hard-to-find bootlegs and rare articles in magazines that were written just for me! I had met Ian the previous summer in Driver’s Ed, raving about this new youth driven musical phenomenon, and I had also fell in with Yara in my sophomore year, 1978-79 when she asked me what kind of music I liked and I answered “punk rock.” Right answer! The three of us mourned the passing of the Sex Pistols (I saw it announced on The Today Show while working in a tiny grocery store in the middle of rural Indiana by that asshole Bryant Gumbel, who literally cheered), and we felt the whole movement was an unholy crusade against stifling conformity, bloated rock stars, and boring music.
I walked around with pictures of punk bands glued to my notebook and writing lyrics on the chalkboards in class trying to convert uninterested Hoosiers to my cause and seeking out imported singles with unknown b-sides in the local record stores. Punk rock was a notorious media sensation, but we were the only people in the entire school that actually bothered to listen to the music and felt an outsider’s kinship with those politically motivated, impoverished British kids with spiked hair. It was then during our junior year that Yara first suggested starting our own band, and the exciting concept that “anybody can do it” finally convinced us we had an obligation to at least try.
Next we had to decide on a name. We floated ones like The Gutters and The Walking Ruins, but when I blurted out The Panics, it was all over. It was a natural, a perfect fit for the hysteria we wanted to spread through out our little burg. We were still lacking a drummer, so we recruited Spike Finger from our high school breakfast sessions. We bought a cheap drumkit from some redneck out in the country and set out to learn the usual garage band covers like “Louie Louie” and almost every song off of the “The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle” album.
Finally, on July 12th, it was the official debut of The Panics! It was yet another free street dance to support an organization called “Bloomington Against The Draft,” and while it was just twelve songs, we mugged for the cameras and felt good about helping out a cause that directly concerned us soon-to-be registration-age teenagers.
We had established ourselves as an up-and-coming punk band and being acquaintances of the Gizmos, Gulcher Records bravely decided to put out a single, much to our great surprise. Thus, we traveled up to West Lafayette, Ind. on August 14, 1980 to record our two originals and a Gizmos cover, “Tie Me Up, Baby!” at Zounds Studio, owned and operated by the hyper-intelligent, bespectacled Mr. Science.
Next we played at another street dance, on August 19th, for WQAX, an Indiana University radio station that would soon be kicked off the campus and eventually cease to exist. It was at this show that their mascot, a giant paper mache duck head, was snatched off the speaker columns and smashed to pieces by friends of ours, and maybe, just maybe, a member of the Panics, greatly upsetting the gentle staff members of WQAX. This all resulted in the local underground newspaper printing letters both denouncing and supporting us, a fact which I found to be scarcely believable. At the tender age of seventeen, I was already burnt out on being in a band and ready to finish up my senior year at high school.
A “No Wave Night” on August 23rd in Indianapolis at a club called Third Base proved to be, after just a handful of live performances, our last show together. Emotions were running high and the tension between band members was spilling over into the live show. Adding to the nerves was the fact that Spike had been out of town and missed a couple of rehearsels. We picked him up at the airport, went straight to the club and hoped for the best. I ranted at the audience like no tomorrow, thinking I would never be in another band for the rest of my life. At the end of the night, blurry-eyed from doing nitrous oxide “whippets” in the parking lot, I was making my way to the car when Mr. Science ran up to me and pressed a cassette into my hand. “I just taped your show off the board,” he breathlessly explained, “and I hope it turned out all right.” Indeed, it was a real kick to hear the set and I held onto that recording for twenty years before I finally found a use for it.
Later Spike, Eric Esad, and I decided to form The Panics II, to take advantage of the 45-vinyl record soon to be released, and we luckily hooked up with a six-feet tall, blonde-haired college student incongruously named Johnny Carson, who had the added benefit of owning virtually all the equipment (guitar, bass, drums, amps, microphones, and PA system) we would need to be a band. Just as soon as we agreed to play with him, we instantly had a gig opening for Indianapolis punk legends The Zero Boys, on November 22nd. Not having a set ready but not wanting to turn down a golden opportunity to play, we called ourselves The Pigwings and strung together a series of jokes (lip-synching to prerecorded music, using toy instruments, wearing a frog costume, coughing up fake blood) and a few actual songs to get through the night. It was a big success, at least from our point of view, but I’m afraid the more hardcore types thought they were being made fun of.
Soon I was told that Gulcher Records was putting out a punk sampler of local Indiana bands, obscurely titled Red Snerts, and that if we could come up with an original, we could get it recorded and included on said sampler. Racking my brains, I remembered the third song that I had handed out a year ago to the original band members but that was never used, a little ditty called “Drugs Are For Thugs.” At the recording session, on February 7, 1981, the engineer complained about the terrible sound coming out of Eric’s bass, which had been covered with fake blood from the Pigwings show and never cleaned off.
For some unknown reason, that original Gulcher single appealed to collectors of obscure punk rock, and even though I don’t think it amounts to a hill of beans, I’m glad to gather this nonsense for a reissue to anybody interested. If I had to guess to its appeal, I’d suppose there was a kind of purity and innocence to those early '80s punk rock bands that can’t be duplicated in today’s too serious and self-conscious world. We did what we
wanted to because we didn’t think anybody was really paying attention or that it would even survive the test of time. And yet, twenty years later, people still want to know more. Maybe it was an unholy crusade, after all.