by Aaron Sunshine (May 2002)Black Randy (who wasn't 'black') was one of those extraordinarily split people: his first action in the embryonic Hollywood punk scene was to steal the receipts of the Masque and heroically return them a few hours later. Black Randy died of HIV related illnesses somewhere in California when it was still GRID. He could've been infected countless times- dirty needles, unprotected sex. He was sneering for your affection and everything he said and did, no matter how serious, teetered on the edge of laughter that laid over a vast despair. He once sung in his ode/attack on San Francisco "golden gate/ready to jump..." while he railed against the very pimps, pushers and punks that he made documentaries of in Seattle and started a punk label for in L.A..
That label was Dangerhouse Records, the seminal L.A. label. Slash and others have endured longer and done more, but Dangerhouse gave L.A. punk the jump start it needed- they released early singles by the Germs, X, Weirdos and Avengers. Dangerhouse folded by 1979, leaving Los Angeles less than a year before Black Flag codified punk into hardcore, and then began the next phase of L.A. punk.
Black Randy and his Metrosquad were a supergroup of the Hollywood punk era: the line up included members of the Randoms, Eyes and the Dils as well as one of the other founding partners of Dangerhouse, David Browne. Musically, they were nothing like the hard-fast-loud sound of punk- if anything they were a '60's Soul/James Brown style funk/soul band that played rather fast. They also had echoes of early Blondie and the Who, with there tough and tight rock and roll. They were a funny band, a joke band in the sense that humor was key to understanding what they were about. The bands' music, with its circus-like Woolsworth Doors organ vibe, played the collective straight man to Black Randy's drunken, buffoonish, drawling, sneering voice. His voice is one of the few truly filthy voices I've ever heard in music- every word he says is dripping in self hatred and general loathing, a venomous nicotine and beer-stained voice that's just laughing. His voice is sleazy enough that you don't just think that he just slept in a porn arcade (as the lyrics to his anthem "I Slept in an Arcade" discuss), you think he INHABITED it. The band was perfectly in sync with Black Randy, playing covers of "Shaft" and "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" while he took aim at the songs, exaggerating the swaggering manhood of one and the simple minded racial pride of the other to grotesque proportions.
Black Randy as a lyricist was a satirist who made everything he took aim at disgusting and outrageous, but still rooted in the real world. This is important, as many artists will take satire into fantasy (such as Eminem), making the situations so outlandish they become unreal. Almost all of Black Randy's lyrics are internal narratives of a person's feelings at a certain moment. A man revels in his ability to manipulate others in "I Tell Lies Everyday" (complete with a 'nya-nya-na' chorus). Another song has a man discussing his love for the syphilitic African dictator Idi Amin ('Idi-idi-idi Amin/I'm your fan!/Idi-idi-idi Amin/I'm your man!). The only song of his that betrays any sympathy for other people is one called "Marlon Brando," whose chorus goes 'What could they do?/He was Marlon Brando?.' The song is about an incident at the Oscars in the '70's where Marlon Brando won an award, and sent a Native American woman to accept it for him and who used the acceptance speech as an opportunity to rail against the treatment of Native Americans in the U.S. The 'they' in the song is everyone involved with Marlon Brando, who has to submit to the power he wields- and this includes the Oscar people, the Native Americans and the audience that was watching. While the sentiment behind Brando's decision was laudable, it was entirely the product of his power, and finally, everyone was kowtowing to him. Black Randy was obsessed the abuse of power, with the ego and obsession and the vanity that it produces.
My favorite Black Randy song is "I Wannabe a Nark." Like all his best work, it's about power and is probably his most vicious look at it. The music, secondary in a lot of Black Randy songs, seems like a half thought- its a loping rock and roll background, pounding in the way that one's head does when you have revenge fantasies.
The narrator is a high school kid who's been rejected by the hipsters, 'the scene' he wishes to join. He's rejected the people he believes to be 'cool,' who have that ideal lifestyle he wants. His rejected triggers the fantasy of "I Wannabe a Nark." It's stating the obvious to say the he now wants to be a cop, but it's his reasons, the specific forms his desire takes, that makes the song brilliant. He wants to be a dirty, dirty cop in Hollywood, like something out of Bad Lieutenant. More than that, he dreams of demanding bribes, taking the hipsters' dope and throwing them in the back of his car. He dreams of being able to assert power over the very cool rock culture that's rejected him as a square. He'll become the ultimate symbol of Squaredom, and lock them up for locking him out. He veers between sneering and sniveling, saying that he has to study hard to become a cop. He can't wait. He wants to take bribes, steal drugs and lock 'em up. This song has a vicious take on the rock star/fan relationship, displaying how powerful a force jealousy is when we're watching people perform- jealous of the power we give them, and that they enjoy so much. This song is the strongest example of Randy's satire, as well as the one that's the nastiest of his songs.
The other interesting aspect of Black Randy is his total obscurity. He doesn't even have an individual listing in the All Music Guide. This is extraordinary in of itself. Everyone has a listing there: The Dils, Chainsaw Kitten, even Delta 5 (a band known more for a single and a tour than an album). Black Randy's album was briefly reissued by Sympathy for the Record Industry, but has fallen out of print again. He hasn't been discovered by a new generation of punk kids, but then he was never embraced by the older generation of punk fans either.
Why is this? Part of the reason is that he put out very little recorded work in his lifetime. His one and only album Pass the Dust, I Think I'm Bowie is little over half an hour. Even with some dodgy out-takes and live recordings added (including an interminable sampling of Randy's stage show), the CD barely cracks the fifty minute mark. Randy's early death prevented any kind of body of work from forming.
Also, his music was strangely difficult. Unlike the Germs or X who drew from fairly traditional rock roots, Black Randy's appropriation of soft funk-soul makes him a much less appealing artist for musicians in his milieu to follow- he had no Gang Of Four no-wave-isms or Minuteman virtuosity and song writing. Black Randy's music isn't very interesting when viewed as music per se- rather, it should be viewed as performance art. His use of his musical forms was to further exaggerate the grotesque parody.
The last reason I think that he's been largely forgotten is one of image. Unlike Darby Crash or Exene, Black Randy never embodied (or even seemed to try to embody) the punk look. He was too old and kind of chubby. He wore long hippie shirts and pork pie hats- never anything close to the punk look. Black Randy wasn't sexy or iconic, and didn't live long enough to become a punk elder and didn't die young enough to become one of its martyr's.
His cerebral and vicious humor, combined with his antagonistic actions and odd appearance meant in some ways that he wasn't the kind of fascist/charismatic rock star figure around which legends build. He didn't seem to embody some kind of ideal state to which to aspire towards. Black Randy was working against the rock star image the majority of artists cultivate- he bathed in the dregs of society without trying to ennoble them (like Lou Reed). He didn't try to make a virtue out of weakness like punk rock traditionally did- he wasn't the voice of the oppressed or an agent of the oppressor, but rather a howling, bitter laugh. He was a nihilistic satire of our collective vanity and ambition, and showed how the human desire for power is consuming and essentially always the same, whether it's in the form of a bloated celebrity, hipster, African dictator, cultural icon or religious worshiper relying on God to provide.
Hopefully, one day there'll be a cult following for Randy, and I'm sure he'd have secretly brimmed with pride, while subjecting them to as much abuse, verbal and otherwise as he could.
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