destroy all monsters began as an anti-rock band. our menagerie of words, images and sounds were an attempt to thumb our noses at the pretentious circus of rock-star bullshit and musical emptiness that filled the air-waves during the early to mid-1970"s. the images that moved us then were a strange combination of film-noir, monster movies, psychedelia, thrift-shop values and the relentless drone of a crazed popular culture. our influences were a combination of audiovisual stimuli such as man ray, the velvet underground and NICO, the hairy who, silver apples, captain beefheart, stanley mouse, SUN RA, comix, stooges, beardsley, and the mc5. we were mid-west art student loners flying through time in a blur of art and noise. it"s predictable that it would take twenty years to gain some perspective. our music sometimes contained a narrative or storytelling direction that was never well explored. a sense of gloom, disaster and apocalypse mixed with doses of anarchy, comedy and absurdity kept us together and were some of the major themes which colored our small scene. our alienation and heightened anxiety was a PSYCHOTRONIC view of life we each shared to various degrees. i felt we were creating sounds we wanted to exist but weren"t to be found in the slick desolate landscape around us. with virtually no audience and little support, we continued expressing our end-of-times messages and outsider beliefs; a sort of paranoiac-critical garage band. emerging from the detroit rust-belt stained our activities with an industrial psychedelic patina.
jim"s noise guitar added invaluable textures and a super-sonic resonance weaving throughout our jams. mike"s experimental sound-net meshed well with his sense of the comedic. my girlfriend at that time, niagara, also had a gift for grande black-comedy , her voice a blend of betty-boop and off-key nico. her scratchy violin playing was equally anti-musical but lent a strong visual statement. indeed her costuming, and ghostly-complexion helped lend the group a nightshade quality. we understood our limitations but as an underground band of mad-scientists we expected our delusions to expand and contaminate society. there was also the fact we were each strongly developed visual artists, sensitized to the decadent, theatrical, and off-beat. our constant flow of music, films, drawings, paintings, photographs, collages and magazines were a romantic imitation of an art movement in progress. the history of the band seems episodic, dreamy, and self-obsessed. i"ve often wondered at the possibilities if we had only been given more time and opportunity. although reflections of the past are a sad excuse for our DUST, the time now seemed right for some tolerance.
after mike and jim"s departure, our direction slowly progressed into the kind of a band we were originally in revolt over; it was an odd/sad demise to witness. replacing jim and mike with ben and larry miller in 1976 gave the new dam a more formal turn, but i felt we remained true to our abstract origins. the miller"s gave the band a focused, "refined" jazzy chaos, but within six months i had invited ronald asheton (stooges) and michael davis (mc5) to join and we had given up abstraction for power. it was a small bid for fame and fortune. asheton and davis were glorified deities in the rock pantheon, and we had envisioned a band that could blend experimentation with high energy. soon, dam totally lost it"s direction and became a raging fiery entity of out-of-control energies and egos. punk rock was at it"s apex and dam became aligned with it. niagara had soon turned her affections toward asheton which made for some awkward relations and powershifts within the group. there were a few high moments, but most of it lacked the sincerity and imagination of early dam. i had felt deceived and exploited by this later version of the band and within a year would be thrown out, with the miller brothers not far behind. dam continued on until 1985 as a typical tired power-pop band, a victim of it"s own excesses and flatulence. i hope not to distract from any of the successes of later dam, as the band had some exceptional moments captured on the singles released on the idbi label.
i was to undergo two violent, profound, episodic (schizoid) experiences both related to the band. during the summer of 1976, following jim and mike"s departure for art school, i had a series of powerful visual, audible, and religious toned hallucinations (all non-drug induced) that continued non-stop for about one month that led me to be voluntarily admitted to a pontiac mental ward. niagara and my parents helped me through a difficult recovery (thorazine, stellazine, you name it) and within six months i plotted the next variation of dam, but now under psychedelics to equalize the fog. a second "backflash" happened over one year later while promoting the new "punk-fueled" band during a visit to new york city. at great humiliation and distress i was flown back to detroit in spaced-out condition and quickly dismissed by the band which could no longer engage my "syd barrett" antics. recuperation followed and i continued basement musical and magazine experiments through the 1980"s with compatriot barry roth under the nightcrawlers moniker.
in response to the unauthorized release of my songs "you"re gonna die", and the lyrical robbery and butchery of "november 22", i put out a live basement tape ep under the black hole records label. this low-budget vinyl of 1978 also contained songs by ben and larry miller who helped with the studio production. known as the days of diamonds ep it had cover art by sci-fi master virgil finlay and label art designed by jim shaw. i attempted a last effort in 1979 under the name xanadu, which again included ben and larry and drummer rob king. this ep was "black-out in the city" and was produced by all x-dam members in livonia, mi. it was an ignored yet satisfying effort that quickly faded into the landscape as ben moved to boston , larry hit the west coast, and i finished a photography degree in detroit.
strange and wonderful moments happened at the practices and performances at god"s oasis, jim shaw"s "drive-in church" and art house . the music and energy created there was something out of ignorance.. there was a sense of learning our sound as we played. mike and niagara had never played instruments before. jim had studied some violin and i had studied classical guitar since an early age but it had little to do with our "noise deconstruction". i remember early dam would play along with sf soundtracks as we watched the vintage 50"s tv screen as in an hour long symphonic piece structured around the classic giant-ant invasion film them. at times we would hold practice in jim"s cramped bedroom. he would put on his latest derelict record find and we would all play and screech to it. we all lacked discipline for steady practices...it was enough to play intensely and get back to discussing art, movies, or music. slices of recorded tape loops, drum boxes, reel-to-reel recorders and an endless stream of faulty broken down audio equipment found their way into our pale-green basement laboratory (mike"s bedroom/studio). mike and i would at times create a boundary for the noise to play between, setting up a rhythm or simple progression repeated ad-nauseum. atmosphere and mood were as important as the "product" we could produce. we often would invite friends and anyone to drop by and play. we had a reputation for crashing parties, setting up, and then being thrown out. there was a free-form direction to our music which lasted until we were exhausted, late for a movie, or ran out of cheap recording tape.
jim shaw was the reluctant spiritual leader, he named the band and gave it his depressed/ fatalistic edge. watching jim play noise guitar was amazing. he would furiously and spasticly attack the instrument forcing every squeal and sonic utterance he could wring from it"s k-mart pick-up. it was nothing short of miraculous the effects produced, from exquisite in-tune celestial harmonics to shattering monstrous roars. mike"s contrubutions were often the most experimental and irreverent, derived from his total rejection and abhorrence of mediocrity. we played by instinct, often getting lost inside our miasmic cloud. early dam created a machine-like trance/drone similar to the effect of eastern ragas. our "songs" were often created on the spur of the moment, ridiculous take-offs and spoofs on classic rock, mondo monster movies and youthful-dementia. we would play these once or twice at the most, recording a version and then go on. imagining an audience for this was outside of reason.at most there were 30 people who came to hear us. one of them david fair was to begin half japanese a couple years later after checking out our squall. calling all girls was an original dam tune that found itself changed on half jap's first single.
a synchronous vibe happened when mike called to suggest the cd project. i had spent the summer listening to our tapes and was amazed at what was there in light of the bland "alternative" music i had heard. being exposed to recent "noise music" made the project more imperative. working with mike over the phone/mail/fax and in la brought back all the comedy and hysteria we shared twenty years ago. mike assembled the 3-cd set in his home-made kitchen/studio, mixing both of our tape and supporting visual-art collections, preserving all the lunacy, anarchy, no-budget production and spontaneity we once had. it became a mission to set the record straight. with the increased awareness of japanese noise bands and the acceptance of industrial, gothic, and twisted folk-music it will be interesting to see what acceptance dam"s contribution will be given. there was a massive amount of material to work with and although 3-cd "s seemed excessive, to us it was compulsory. . nothing less would work. production was made possible by thurston moore, byron coley, mike kelley and myself. perhaps more may follow, with or without an audience. these documents of that time are not necessarily a finished product, but are more about being a sketchbook; a look inside innocent, sloppy, and weirdly creative moments; the destroy all monster basement sounds and journals of peace, love, and doom.
A slightly different version of this essay appears in "Destroy All Monsters: Geisha This" a book released in 1995 and 1996. developments after our recent reunion have resulted in a series of new dam projects. this new edition of 'Geisha This' contains some of the documents and rumors. but don't worry, this is one group bent on fatalism and obscurity.
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