Perfect Sound Forever

The Effigies

photo couresty of Effigies website (thanks to Obik): '83 lineup with Paul, John, Steve and Earl

by Joseph Larkin

On July 12, 1979, Chicago, IL erupted in chaos and anarchy. Ex-radio DJ Steve Dahl, who had been fired some months earlier after the radio station he was working for (WDAI) had changed to an all disco format, hosted the Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Dahl invited people to bring unwanted disco records to the stadium and burn them in a container located in the center of the field. More than ten thousand records were collected during doubleheader games with the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Things quickly got out of control when some jerks wearing "Shoot the Bee Gees" t-shirts and chanting "Disco Sucks!" started to throw records from the stands during the game. Some people even started their own fires and, eventually, riots broke out.

Is it any surprise then that numerous punk rock bands (Naked Raygun, Big Black, Strike Under, etc.) would bubble up like so much burnt cheese in the years following that awful tragedy (which actually did happen, but with much less tragic consequences that did not inspire any particular rock movement to be honest)? Overnight the underground sprang into action and countless great bands started playing clubs around Chicago. On top of that heap of bands were the Effigies. In an effort to prove that I am a bona fide objective journalist, here's the Effigies' official bio re-written by yours truly: John Kezdy, Earl Letiecq, Steve Economou and Paul Zamost started the Effigies in late 1979 (though the band didn't play its first show until November 1980). They were one of Chicago's first punk rock bands and, with a driving guitar-heavy noise that danced like a cobra and often leapt unabashedly off of the Sears Tower into catchy melodic hooks that never rusted, they were instrumental in developing what would become the dominant sound of the first generation of Chicago punk.

From the very beginning the Effigies were a powerful band (often described in terms that most punk rock bands never were [like "mature," "muscular" and "thoughtful"]) with a sound that cooked like a George Foreman grill. The Effigies played their first show on November 9, 1980 at Oz in Chicago and just four months later they were recorded live for inclusion on the Busted at Oz compilation (it would be their vinyl debut). Up next came the Haunted Town 12", five songs of razor-sharp guitars being pummeled by a big rhythm section that throbs like an erect penis the size of Michael Stipe's ego. Originally scheduled for release in June of '81, then August of '81, the record didn't actually hit the street until October or November of that year. The delay of the record combined with the large number of copies the label gave away and the $15/hour Autumn Records was charging the band for work related to the project resulted in the, ahem, liberation of the remaining stock by the Effigies who then sold the records on their own and later repressed the EP on their Ruthless label (which would also press up the "Bodybag"/"Security" [aka Remains Nonviewable] 7" ["Bodybag" alone should've solidified the Effigies' place in rock history but, alas, history is not that kind], the We're Da Machine 12" EP as well as material by Naked Raygun and the evil disco band Big Black) whenever the Autumn run sold out.

1982 saw the Effigies touring extensively (hitting the west coast in the beginning of the year, the east coast at the end and everywhere else in between) while Ruthless continued to chug along mercilessly. John Kezdy explained the band's approach towards the business of playing rock 'n' roll in an interview from "back in the day": "We played a lot of gigs and we saved a lot of money from all the gigs and we'll just put [the records] out ourselves because you could have somebody else back the money but they're going to have some say in what goes on. We said the hell with that."

1983 proved to be a rough year for the band as the Effigies embarked on their second east coast tour and saw many of their shows cancelled before they got to play them. The Effigies spent much of the year in Chicago and didn't play out very much as a result. There was also the beginning of a backlash against the band which was fueled in part by the Effigies' refusal to create overtly political material. But 1983 wasn't a total waste for our heroes as their excellent We're Da Machine EP appeared that fateful year. We're Da Machine crunches just a bit harder musically than Haunted Town and expands on the themes of individuality and distrust of Company thinking that had pervaded much of the Effigies' early output. The EP wasn't so much a step forward for the band as it was a step to the side -- they further explored their sound but not in such of way that their explorations would ruffle anyone's feathers. This would not be the case with future records from the band.

By 1984, the Effigies were working with Enigma and their first full-length record, For Ever Grounded (fun fact: when spoken as an acronym, F-E-G, the title is "Effigy"), marked the beginning of the Effigies' shift from mid-tempo hardcore to a post-punk sound. The guitars cut deeper yet became more angular and dynamic while the bass and drums pounded out a more furious beat. The lyrics were more fiercely individualistic as Kezdy cast an ever increasingly annoyed glare at everything in his sight. Songs like "Rather See None," "Patternless" and "What's the Beat?" make one almost believe in the cleansing power of rock 'n' roll (no, seriously). For Ever Grounded draws a line in the sand that few bands have had the guts to cross. Soon after the album's release conflicts within the band saw the departure of guitarist Letiecq and his replacement by Robert O'Connor. The famed WNUR Middle of America compilation was also released in 1984, but the Effigies' contribution was an unnecessary dub remix of "Security" (hey, I thought P. Diddy invented the remix many years later...).

The band's next release, Fly on a Wire, was a big departure from their previous material and was released (as their next album, Ink, would also be) on Fever Records. It didn't win them any new friends and is a very difficult album to get a handle on. All excess was stripped from the band's sound and what was left got thrown into a blender leaving the band that emerged almost unrecognizable. Though For Ever Grounded was certainly the band's zenith, Fly on a Wire comes in at a very close second.

1986's Ink proved to be the lineup's swansong and showed the band toiling deeper in that mine called "post-punk." Ink is a satisfying rock album (the kind that a band like Metallica might enjoy [foreshadowing!]), but it doesn't quite hit the mark like previous Effigies albums had -- it's just not all that inventive or challenging. The band had planned a national tour to support the record, but unfortunately its release was delayed and the Effigies had to tour without an album to support. Not surprisingly, the tour was a disaster and Kezdy was kicked out of the band he helped start up all those years before.

However, a call from Metallica (!) brought Kezdy and the Effigies back together momentarily. Kezdy received a phone call from Metallica's tour manager who was offering them an opening spot on their upcoming European tour. Kezdy was quoted as saying, "I called down to Texas to the guy who booked that portion of our tour and sure enough, [Metallica] liked the album and wanted us for thirty dates at $1200 a gig." Not feeling that the band could go out and play for the right reasons, Kezdy vetoed the decision to take the tour despite the pleas of the other members of the band and the Effigies split again. (Note: The tour that the Effigies were asked to support ended rather abruptly due to the tragic bus crash that killed original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton [really, the only thing "tragic" about this bus crash is the fact that Lars Ulrich survived it]). Kezdy reformed the Effigies in 1987 with original guitarist Earl Letiecq, Chris Bjorklund (from Strike Under) on bass and Joe Haggerty on Drums. Earl left (again!) the next year and Chris moved to guitar. Tom Woods was recruited for thunderstick (bass) duty. The band played around Chicago but did not unleash any new material on the unsuspecting public.

1989 saw the release of the Remains Nonviewable LP (a collection made up of the "Body Bag" single, both of the Effigies' early EPs and four cuts from For Ever Grounded) on Roadkill records. Remains Nonviewable, complete with extensive liner notes, is a fitting document of the Effigies at their peak (though it's unfortunate that all of For Ever Grounded didn't make the cut). The Effigies wouldn't be around to support the LP as they split (yet again -- sensing a pattern here yet?) in 1990.

The (original) Effigies reformed in 1992 to play a one off live show at the soon to be closed Chicago club Exit. The band later got back together and played gigs in Chicago clubs in December, 1995 (five tracks from the first of the 1995 shows were released by VMLive as part of their series of live 7" singles -- the single was limited to one thousand copies and is a deliciously sloppy jumble of early material played, warts and all, for an appreciative crowd that sings along with every song) as well as early 1996 to celebrate Touch and Go's re-issue of the Remains Nonviewable retrospective on CD. The Effigies responded to the success of those reunion shows by promptly splitting up again. They remain disbanded at press time.

Aside from Touch and Go's glorious Remains Nonviewable CD (which is absolutely essential listening), much of the Effigies' discography is long out of print and impossible to find (even in the Chicago area) unless you are shameless enough to go on eBay and root around a bit. The search is worth it, though, as most Effigies releases (especially For Ever Grounded -- do whatever it takes to get this one) are as good as rock music gets. Even Lars Ulrich agrees! Heck, rumor has it that Lars even has a large number of Effigies MP3s (as well as an extensive collection of homemade child pornography) on his home computer...

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