by Jim Hayes
Every city and every epoch gets the band it deserves. NYC in 1988 was just teeming with insurrection and despair. The first shots of gentrification and displacement were appearing and the first security cameras were installed. Burn trees: Old Skull, CIA World’s Fair. I always get so disappointed when bands reveal themselves to be musicians and not avatars, not myths nor legends. Missing Foundation gave themselves over to such interpretations because they existed as a graffiti-ed symbol. An upside down martini glass signifying that the party of this society is over. Missing Foundation was the bleakness of the last Reagan years. The sheer ubiquity of the graphic made it seem that they were everywhere-but what did they want? They had this poster that appeared one morning: “we will not act civilized in this fucking city.”
Peter Missing looked like Buddha, who looked like Charlie Parker if Charlie Parker would be carrying his own LP's in white plastic Key Food bags. The last time I saw him he was crossing First Avenue by the International Bar. We didn’t speak, by that point he had enough of me.
The humanitarian lawyer and civil rights activist Stanley Cohen was leading a march through the East Village. It was an anti-gentrification protest and when it went past the Hell’s Angels’ they pointed out that “the asshole marchers better not touch the bikes.” I sidled up to Pete Missing and asked him if he thought the spontaneous protest march was organized by the cops, the infamous NYPD “Red squad” that kept tabs on Ed Sanders and Abbie Hoffman.
He retorted that Stanley Cohen was leading the march. Naturally, I accused Cohen of being CIA, a company man. Pete screamed that he was protesting and I was ruining the experience or something; his face got all contorted in an amber rage.
Missing Foundation came out of a noise band called Drunk Driving. They’re like the Mary Celeste. I’ve never met anyone that saw or even heard them. Bob Bert says they made a tape but I never came across it. Chris Egan played drums after Bert and he says they played at Tramps and confirms “they” made a tape. Another person in the band was Jeff (guitar?), someone named Tama played bass. According to Mr. Egan, it turned into Missing Foundation when the late Wisconsin native Mark Ashwill joined (drums, later the singer of underrated The Spitters). Then Jim Waters became their engineer. Jim Waters, good lord-that explains a lot! Especially the heaviness of drum sounds. He really got a heavy low end.
They were a primal scream. Scrap metal and cacophony. Bull horns- it was pretty noisy but it fit in with the time and place. Sorta a post-Filth Swans type of heaviness fitted with a healthy borrowing of Einsturzende Neubauten. The bullhorn was new. When Gibby Haynes used a bullhorn it was seen as a way to communicate above the din, but when Pete Missing used it had a haranguing affect. More of a call to arms, the cult of the days of rage. Missing Foundation as the descendants of the Townhouse Explosion; Sam Melville killed in Attica, Stanley Cohen was Kathy Boudin’s lawyer.
“All over the East Village, graffiti depicting an overturned martini glass and ''1988 - 1933'' have appeared for the last year. The symbol is the logo of Missing Foundation, an anarchist rock band that was active in last week's protests in Tompkins Square Park.
The four-member group, known for its cacophonous music - the lead singer, known as Peter Missing, sings through a bullhorn - claims that industrial society is at the brink of collapse and that a police state will arise from its ashes. The overturned glass signifies that ''the party's over,'' the band's motto. The dates are an allusion to the year the Nazis gained control of the Weimar Republic” (see Kirk Johnson " The Talk of the East Village; A Neighborhood of Vigorous Opinions").
The Tompkins Square Park riot was when the police state finally won and NYC was gone. Everything happens in NYC first. NY Scum Haters. From the 7A bar, you could see the burning trash cans like it was Saigon, it was like the People’s Park. MF were saying that gentrification was neo-colonialism and inner colonial experience while the yuppies moved into the neighborhood. The International Bar had “die yuppie scum” scrawled over the bathroom door, littered amongst Missing Symbols. The shorthand signature was at once menacing and omniscient, it was everywhere.
The first question about Missing Foundation is always; what happened at CBGB’s? The story I always heard was that they got on stage and then just set a fire. The crowd and the band fled. Another second hand story reported that Hilly was storming around out front, furious that some band would dare damage his sacred shrine.
Jim Waters was very kind in answering some questions. Some of the stuff he produced and engineered, I’ve really enjoyed.
Missing Foundation toured in 1987, they played the East Coast-DC, Baltimore, Philly and Boston. He was the sound man which was probably a pretty wild job. I couldn’t imagine what shape their tour van would be in and who amongst that crew would have a valid driver’s license. Could you imagine being pulled over and telling the state trooper that your band is called DRUNK DRIVING?
So these are some edited and annotated emails from Mr. Waters.
“After journalist Mike Taibbi (father of Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi) aired a special on CBS concerning the “Satanic Cult” of Missing Foundation (I think it was called Cult Of Rage), their notoriety rose to new heights.
Of course, the special was a badly researched piece, since no one in the band had any connection with any Satanic cults or witchcraft nor any other of these types of things. Missing Foundation was an industrial/political band who also happened to be very vocal about the gentrification of the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhoods. Somehow that made them dangerous, but the demon worshipping angle was laughable. Getting gigs at real music venues became even harder after this. Admittedly, their shows were generally pretty wild and there was always some mischief involved, but the venues also saw large paying audiences attend the shows. Many people came to find out what all of the excitement was about.” -Jim Waters.
In November of 1988, CBS News did a four part “investigative report” on how Missing Foundation was the secret sinister force behind the Tompkins Square Park riots because the idea of people in a neighborhood getting together all by themselves to protest is unfathomable. Mike Taibbi had this pointed beard and a way to look into the camera while he was using this nebulous evidence of candles to prove satanic intent. Of course, the themes of people being pushed out of their homes for wealthy renters was not cause enough. 1988 and the cry of “die yuppie scum” was first graffitied- the first shots across the bow- in those days it was generally considered dangerous to cross Avenue B. Avenues C & D were abandoned shells. Squatters and dope dealers. And Taibbi went on about Missing Foundation for four days in a row. (-JH)
Jim Waters continues: “They got CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal to agree to put on a Missing Foundation show, only by promising not to make any trouble. Well, of course they agreed. On the day of the show, police patrol cars circled CBGB’s all day, watching for any signs of disturbance and anarchy, which apparently, might spontaneously break out. And It didn’t help any, that Pete himself called the police (as a concerned citizen) telling them that he feared that there might be some violence at the show tonight” (Doc Dart of the Crucifucks did the same thing-JH).
“The band wanted to make a big show of it, so they hired a bunch of young Puerto Ricans from the neighborhood, to surround the band and look menacing and to act like thug-ish bodyguards. They stood in a line across the front of the stage, glaring at the audience, in their sunglasses, leather jackets and berets, as if they were some militant gang” (Like Public Enemy using the S1W’s as a Panther 21 nod-JH).
“Pete and guys spent the day scouring the streets for discarded filing cabinets to use as percussion instruments, since none of them were willing to sacrifice any of their instruments, which would surely be forfeit after the carnage was over. They somehow convinced Vince (the bass player) to bring his rig, which they vowed to rescue for him. He was not too happy about it (and for good reason).
As usual, my job was to placate the club, playing the reasonable sound engineer, and I sat there patiently (with club people watching) as we placed microphones on the various pieces of metal and filing cabinets, and worked on getting a decent sounding mix. Mark Ashwill actually brought a crappy drum set and we also mic-ed that up, along with the bass cabinet.
The band had to be patted down in order to gain entrance to the club, since again; they were treated as if they might walk around with loaded weapons at all times. If they ever did have any weapons, I sure never saw any, and I was around them a lot. The only weapons they had were their minds and their art (just kidding)!”
Finally, show time arrived and the club was absolutely filled to capacity and the crowd was electric with anticipation. They expected something fucked up to happen and they were excited! I was manning the board, looking around at some of New York’s hippest celebrities who were in attendance. I saw Lenny Kaye lurking behind me just as the guy from the record label came over and asked me if I wanted some poppers? No thanks, bro’.
The band was announced as the audience packed in closer to the stage. Pete stood forward and began shouting through his megaphone into the microphone as feedback began to erupt and the rhythm section (made up of 5 or 6 people) began flailing out a beat on the piles of filing cabinets. That was my cue to turn up the faders to maximum and the noise was absolutely deafening. I turned to see the pained look on Lenny Kaye’s face as everyone began to evacuate the premises.
At that point, Mark Ashwill lifted his entire drum set over his head and chucked it into the crowd, as people scattered in a panic. A few moments later, the huge Voice of the Theater monitor, hanging from the ceiling in front of the stage, crashed to the floor. Everyone scattered as the police arrived.
We met up a few minutes later in drips and drabs as various members made their escape and then met up behind the club on 3rd Street. We were all so pumped. It had been quite a spectacle. Somehow Vince managed to get his bass rig out in one piece.”
Wow. That’s Jim Waters account and that’s the first time I’ve ever heard from an eyewitness. The post-it note of the three M’s of the University of Wisconsin at Madison: Mao Marx and Marcuse rang through the militant left of the sixties. If the Weatherman Underground would have just formed a band.
Unlike the wave of ostensibly political groups that parrot an empty social awareness like SDS’ers that went “underground,” Missing Foundation lived in the squats and watched the contractors come and go. The first wave of the ugly exclusive Disneyland that NYC has become, unfolded in 1988. Almost like the blowing up of Army Math in Madison-the radical gesture transformed into violence because violence seemed to be the only answer. Tompkins Square was the last gasp of sixties left before into sputtered into squabbling over tomes (“The truth is radical,” said Madison professor Harvey Goldberg).
Tompkins Square Park was the first hand held videotaped riot- all the cameras in '68 were then held by the news media. Almost as many people recording the riot as there were involved in it- the Chicago cops attacked the media- this time it was citizens. An invasion of your privacy was a dual gentrification: visionary ruins of the crumbling East Village the past as a digestive industrial metaphor the East Village wanted its own Chicago and they got one. Allen Ginsberg being there seems fitting in this last gasp of sixties activism.
Across the street from 7A was Tompkins Square. It was a homeless encampment and at night huge fires would burn in trash bins. It was the centerpiece of the community and a park known for its history of labor demonstrations. There’s photos of Corso and Ginsberg there.
Missing Foundation portrayed the patina of un-compromise during a period of intense social change in NYC. the beginning of the end- they were a voice for those who thought they were taken. The Missing Foundation logo is identical in a mirror. the strength in the anonymity of it. There was some hipster black and white photography photo book with scenes of the LES and there was a Drunk Driving (band) poster with the upside down martini glass. Jerry Orbach interviewing a crime victim near the logo on Law and Order.
MF were saying that gentrification was neo-colonialism and inner colonial experience while the yuppies moved into the neighborhood. The International Bar had “die yuppie scum” scrawled over the bathroom door, littered amongst Missing Symbols. The shorthand signature was at once menacing and omniscient, it was everywhere.
Industrial society has collapsed and a police state is arising from the ashes. Seems obvious to me. Missing Foundation were right. It’s really dramatic at the end when he says you’ve been taken. This is Germany, it’s 1933- while it’s certainly not the Weimar Republic that doesn’t matter. “The supremacy of the military power over the civil seems to be established, & the public mind has acquiesced in it and sanctioned it.” –Chief Justice Taney 1864.
Missing Foundation Bibliography
- http://www.boweryboogie.com/2016/05/partys-over-peter-missing-paints-20-foot-long-mural-for-lower-east-side-history-month/ (An essay from the Spring of 2016 about a recent Pete Missing art show)
- http://www.loomofruin.blogspot.com/2008/01/men-screaming.html (Sam McPheeters, from Born Against describes meeting MF in Germany)
- Cult of Rage, the famous CBS News documentary which attributes all sorts of things to Missing Foundation. Mike Taibbi uses a notorious murderer as a source. Uh Huh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcQrjp8Myjg
- The Talk of the East Village; A Neighborhood of Vigorous Opinions By KIRK JOHNSON Published: August 13, 1988
- www.nytimes.com/1988/08/10/nyregion/class-struggle-erupts-along-avenue-b.html (NY Times analysis a few days after the riot)
- http://patterson.no-art.info/gallery/2004-09-12_missing.html (Lincoln Anderson profiles Pete Missing for an art show in 2004)
- (Memories of the riot) http://patterson.no-art.info/reviews/2008-08-01c_derienzo.html
- http://www.petermissing.de/MF.html (An old “official looking” MF site)
- https://greenpointers.com/2013/09/09/missing-foundation-the-most-underground-band-youve-probably-never-heard-of-recorded-on-kingsland-ave/ (Decent overview from a fan)
- (Flaming Pablum is a NYC history blog and here’s their insightful commentary on MF)
- http://www.villagevoice.com/music/music-6394864 (Mark Ashwill obituary written by Maggie Estep)
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