Your Skull is My Bowl
by Pete Crigler
Hardcore punk in the '80's was quite the thing to behold. Violent, dangerous, reckless and amazing all at the same time; this was the music of a generation's revolt against the status quo. It spread virus-like all over the country and Virginia was no exception, spawning their own small scene of dedicated fans and bands willing to build on hardcore's reputation. Graven Image, led by the charismatic Dwayne Curd was no exception. Touring and recording at a furious pace, the band made themselves one of the highlights of the Virginia hardcore scene. The band didn't last very long but their reputation has lasted throughout the years by those who were there and who remembered. Dwayne Curd passed away in 2002 after dealing with some harrowing personal issues. This is the story of a band and their singer.
Graven Image's core lineup was Dwayne Curd, guitarist Nick Smilek, drummer Joey Bosineau and bassist Brit Ryle. They came out of the Richmond VA underground and began making some noise almost from the get go. Joey picks up the story of the band's formation in a recent interview- "I knew Dwayne and Nick from skateboarding. They were always bringing new punk music to my vert ramp. At one point, we decided that we should start a band. This was probably early '82, maybe late '81. We would practice at Nick's parent's house. Just the three of us, playing 'Louie, Louie,' Black Flag and other punk covers. We started writing stuff and needed a bass player. Dwayne and Nick met Brit at a show, I think and we had a bass player."
While they released their first cassette in 1983, a split release with Richmond hardcore legends Honor Role and a 7" inch of their own the following year entitled Your Skull is My Bowl! Bosineau talked about that tape in a 2017 interview, "Honor Role had recorded at Nutty Buddy studios (Eskimo) with John Morand, so did we. We had the tapes, so the next logical step was to get it out. I'm not sure how it really came about. It was probably Pen Rollings (Honor Role) and Nick doing it. Somehow, Brockie (GWAR) got involved. Again, the scene was pretty much a brotherhood, so it's not surprising that a bunch of people were involved." Despite these now-classic recordings, they weren't able to break through nationally. As Smilek says, "Success, that is measured on a very different scale. We never thought about be successful we were just kids that had a fun time playing shows as much as we did practicing.
"One thing that really helped the Richmond scene and peaked the curiosity was when Jerry Falwell had his radio show and was preaching that the punk rock bands in Richmond, White Cross and Graven Image were corrupting minds of the youth in Richmond with their devil music. Now that is when we realized that what we were doing was bigger than all of us. If four skate punks from Richmond can write music that can rattle the cage of Mr. Jerry Falwell, we must be doing something right."
The band couldn't keep themselves together long as Smilek said, "We had a falling out after a tour that ended in Boston. We are all older now but to this day we all agree that we didn't know what we had until it was over." Bosineau stated about their breakup, "The scene changed. Shows were becoming violent. It seemed like the music didn't anymore. At the first night, it was just a bunch of fights on the floor. It wasn't much anymore."
The band disappeared and everyone moved on to different things. Brit Ryle was last seen as a financial consultant in Baltimore, Nick moved to Powhatan, Virginia and became a father, Bosineau moved to Bend, Oregon in September of 1990 and makes a living as a masonry contractor. He still plays music and has his own punk band.
Dwayne went off on his own and to help tell his story, I turned to Sharon Elliott, former partner and longtime friend of Dwayne. The story of his life was convoluted and different. For example, when I was working on my first book around 2009, I tracked Nick down and was asking about Dwayne and the band. Nick told me his death had something to do with the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the sheriff of Richmond and some type of corruption and cover up that was never really reported. I've never been able to corroborate this and Nick never elaborated on it at all and withdrew from any further comment. Naturally, this was very confusing to me and I really wanted to find out more. So I did some digging, some asking of questions and found out a very interesting piece of Virginia punk history.
After Graven Image split, Dwayne pursued an architecture degree at Virginia Tech and continued playing. Elliott: "He was in 4 bands: Graven Image, Sordid Doctrine (with Tannon Penland from Loincloth), Blower (formed with Bryan Bridgman, also from Sordid Doctrine) and Koszonom (with Brad Roberts and Mike Derks from GWAR). He also recorded a few 'spoken word' recordings/songs and published 13 Prizelie zines. These were heavily influenced by the dada artistic and literary movement that arose as a reaction to WWI." In a 2012 interview with the Introverted Loudmouth blog, Tannon Penland described Sordid Doctrine as 'Richmond's equivalent to COC.' They had a force that distinguished them from a lot of other Richmond bands. They could be considered a 'crossover' band, a kind of Slayer/Exodus meets Negative Approach with some Black Flag sprinkled on top.'
Eventually, Dwayne's music career took a back seat when he moved to Blacksburg for graduate school. Sharon Elliott picks up the story: "We both had been to VCU and VA Tech and graduated with Master of Architecture degrees. I started working an 8 to 5 in Architecture and he was still bar-tending at night. We separated and I moved to DC for 2 years to jump start my career in Architecture." They stayed friends and Dwayne continued his life around Richmond. Tannon Penland: "Dwayne eventually got his degree in architecture. By this point, he felt the world of architecture on the large scale was simply raw business, devoid of any soul. He had spent time in an architectural firm, but eventually left it to become a bartender. He continued [bartending at night and] working on poetry, music, design and eventually got into making lamps, clocks and furniture." He eventually settled down with a woman he'd met named Lia and life seemed happy. They were even engaged to be married in August of 2002. Then suddenly, life took a horrible turn.
On November 7, 2001, Lia was murdered by an unknown assailant in Richmond. Dwayne became the center of unwanted attention and he did not handle it well. Sharon Elliott: "He was crushed when this happened and then the police were hounding him everyday for the next 8 months until his death. This was such a sad time for him. It was the end. He thought he was going to jail for her murder. He lived 2 blocks away from her apartment, where she was shot through the window from the outside. The police thought he walked from his apartment to hers and shot her through a window and then went back home. His roommate was home however, he said he was in the other room so he didn't know if Dwayne left the apartment that night or not."
This unwanted speculation caused Dwayne to enter into a severe depression. In the end, though he'd been a drinker, he never really did hard drugs. The depression hastened quite a nasty heroin habit, which surprised those who loved him. I'll let Sharon tell the rest of the story: "We were hardcore drinkers. We may have smoked a little weed but never anything hard. He only started doing H right there at the end with an old friend of ours. He was so lost there at the end." Ultimately, heroin took his life. "I've been told that he was out with friends drinking that night, Sunday, September 23, 2002 and he was very drunk and depressed, people said."
With that, a talented singer and Virginia hardcore icon was gone forever (in many ways towards the end, his life was eerily similar to that of Dave Insurgent, singer for Reagan Youth. His girlfriend, a prostitute, had been picked up by Joel Rifkin, notorious Long Island serial killer and her body later found. This pushed Insurgent over the edge and he was also dead of a suicide after about a week). Regardless of how he passed, Dwayne's legacy and that of Graven Image continue to live on. Blogs and torrents have picked up the band and played up the greatness of a band that never got their fair share. Sharon Elliott talked about how Dwayne was able to experience his legacy before his passing: "I know without a doubt he is smiling from ear to ear. He loved when people would come up to him and say that they remember him from one of his bands. He would always say that to me that someone came up to him and said they remember seeing him play live and how much they loved him. He couldn't believe people remembered him." But with such great music and an amazing presence, both on and off stage, it's no wonder people still remember and talk about Dwayne and Graven Image all these years later.
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