Tuesday, December 01, 2015

On World Aids Day revisiting an article I wrote in 2014 for Huffington Post on the subject of coming out amid punk and the onset of AIDS. So many friends and peers are still missed.

On World Aids Day revisiting an article I wrote in 2014 for Huffington Post on the subject of coming out amid punk and the onset of AIDS. So many friends and peers are still missed. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kid-congo/how-i-came-out-of-the-clo_b_4891947.html
Ever since I can remember, I have loved rock and roll music. I loved it even before I knew that rock and roll was all about sex. After all, I was three-years-old. I did know that "Who Wears Short Shorts" by The Royal Teens and "Blue Moon" by The Marcels tickled my funny bone and made me laugh even barely out of babyhood. My sisters would play the 45s on our parents' Hi-fi console stereo, and I loved watching them spin around, the colors of the labels as hypnotic as the songs themselves. Then, a few years later, as a preteen, I watched my teenage sisters and cousins getting dressed and ready to go out dancing to an East L.A. Chicano band called Thee Midniters. 
Their excitement about the night's event was palpable -- chattering, dancing and primping in front of the mirror. I didn't know who or what Thee Midniters were, but I knew that the teens excitement was what I wanted, and that music was the conduit. It's a 1967 snapshot seared in my brain so strongly, but I didn't equate this picture with sex. After all, I was 8-years-old. A year or so later, my older cousins listened to Jimi Hendrix's "Axis Bold As Love" LP and I sang along and marveled that a guitar could sound like a spaceship taking off. I had an artist neighbor, Steve Escandon, that took on a mentor role and introduced me to The Mothers of Invention's Freak Outalbum, and R. Crumb comics like The Furry Freak Brothers. My mom would buy me copies of my beloved Mad Magazine when she went grocery shopping. I was scared of Santa Claus, and loved having my photo taken with Frankenstein at the Movieland Wax Museum. At grade school, I knew I liked dancing, sharp clothes and things the other kids didn't like. I was outside my peer group. I was not at all cynical; I just thought these things were boss!
It was a few years later when sex, or sexuality, came into play for me; David Bowie and glam rock was all the rage in 1973. I was 14, and I read in Creem magazine about a place called Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, where all the glam stars hung out. Plus, there were great looking teenage groupies! I couldn't bear the thought of being left out, so I would sneak out of my parents' house at night in my homemade satin outfit and catch the bus to Hollywood to make the scene. Luckily, once there, I found a group of other teenagers drinking Ranier Ale in the back alley, because we were too young to get in the club. Somehow, later in the evening, we all ended up inside the club bumping, grinding and posing on the mirrored dance floor. All the men in the place were flamboyant and rock star femme. However, I noticed all the older men were trying to get girls, while the younger boys were just there to be gay, fashionable and dancing around music and musicians and excitement. The girls were all necking with each other. I was in heaven. I had found a home.
David Bowie was the perfect fantasy and foil for the teenage gay kid at the time. He was a rock star, androgynous, hedonistic and an alien from outer space, typifying exactly what a gay teenager experienced. We felt like aliens growing into our bodies and experimenting with alcohol and drugs. I could relate to the Bowie image -- hook, line and sinker. I soon had my first anonymous oral sex in a back alley, and got to know the enjoyment and thrill of clandestine fear -- feeling good, scared and so grown up. Now I knew that sexuality was part of rock and roll!
After a brief detour into disco music and the discothèque (hey, I was young and it's where the gay glammers went), Punk Rock emerged in 1976. By this time, I was the respectable age of 17 and had another outsider movement I could claim as my own. The androgyny of Patti Smith was perfect, and her same sex version of "Gloria," which starts with the line: "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," was all I needed to hear at that juncture. Despite the macho aggro stance of punk, many gay men and women spearheaded the L.A. scene. Musicians, fashion designers, artists, photographers and street sex workers were all attracted to create this enduring community. The glam rock space aliens turned into monsters. We were the Blank Generation that wanted to scare the hell out of you and shake up the status quo. For the gay kids, that included the homosexual status quo. We did not fit into the "clone" or "disco" mentality of the late 70s. For us, first wave punk rock gays, we weren't interested in being "out" because to us, labels were strictly taboo. We believed we were a subculture that was not seeking acceptance from the outside world. It was a pretty separatist attitude. Fuck the system, or stay away. That didn't mean we couldn't fuck or had to hide. However, in our insular, hedonistic world, our homosexuality was rarely discussed, making a strange dichotomy. We were fine with it.
It wasn't until the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic hit our community that we had to stand up and start shouting. Personally, I lost several punk rock music friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York in the first wave of the epidemic. Louie Beeson, our soundman, Jef Miller, a huge presence and music fan, singer Klaus Nomi in New York, and Butch, the leather boot collector in Los Angeles. These friends were the tip of the iceberg. I hardly knew what hit me. We didn't know what hit us. The "gay cancer" baffled, was mutating and scared the hell out of those affected directly or indirectly. President Ronald Reagan would not acknowledge, or utter one word about AIDS as an emergency situation. It got worse and my close punk artist community was pissed off, frantic and in deep emotional pain. 
If we, and our counterparts in other major cities, were still space aliens or monsters, we knew how to get attention. Act Up sprung up with civil disobedience and a strong message that we must be seen. It was at this time, a new generation of punks erupted with the Queercore scene. Punk left behind the "labels are taboo" credo in favor of being loud support for the GLBT community, and empowering us from the pain and ignorance towards AIDS. It was the grass roots organizations that supported. Years went by, many more friends in the arts died. More support and more awareness are at hand. It's still sad and the pain and loss of those friends is still with me. For me, AIDS was the defining moment for this punk rocker to "come out of the closet and into the streets."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Run up to Halloween with Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds

Run up to Halloween with Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Will be Spooktacular! Tell ALL your friends! Xxx
10/28/2015, Kansas City, MO, Blind Tiger
10/29/2015, Wichita, KS, Barleycorn’s
10/30/2015, Dallas, TX, Double Wide.. Costume contest!
10/31/2015, Austin, TX, The North Door - Halloween Ball w/ Silver Apples
Please spread the good word if you have friends in these areas! Thanks!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Kid Congo Powers Interview originally from Alligator Justice 2013

The artist known as Kid Congo Powers – Brian Tristan to his mum – is, I’m inclined to think, the best kept secret in rock ‘n’ roll. For thirty-three years he has played fierce, funny rock ‘n’ roll. But a lack of mainstream recognition appears not to bother the Washington DC based musician.

“I’m right where I need to be,” says Powers. “I’m artistically satisfied with the way the music is happening.”

The thing is, many readers may unknowingly have Kid Congo in their album collections: long before before he stepped out solo Powers played guitar in several seminal bands. He started out with The Gun Club, the great Los Angeles band who pioneered a punk-blues template that has often been imitated, never bettered. Poached by The Cramps, he added his distinctive fuzz tone to Psychedelic Jungle and Smell Of Female, amongst the finest music hose purveyors of mutant rockabilly ever made. Nick Cave then brought Kid to Berlin and made him a Bad Seed for his Tender Prey and The Good Son albums, Cave’s most intense and focused work. Since then Powers has lead The Pink Monkey Birds, making music as engaging and entertaining as that recorded with his more famous alumni.

“My thing is rock’n’roll with an open mind that takes its roots seriously but is looking into the future. Music for otherworldly people. And music for people who enjoy otherworldly sounds!” 

Powers has accurately defined the Kid Congo sound, a swampy throb that is lowbrow and sophisticated, sexy and arch. After spending much of the late-1990s and early noughties laying low – “I had sobriety issues that needed to be dealt with and took time away from making music fulltime. I managed a vintage clothes emporium” he says to explain his missing decade – he made a low-key return with 2005’s Solo Cholo album. Here he filtered his Mexican American roots through an alternative rock mesh. But it was his 2009 album Dracula Boots, an inventive and entertaining slice of garage rock, which announced a triumphant return. His latest album, Haunted Head, is also great fun with Powers creating what could be the soundtrack to an unmade John Waters film, so effectively does he mix old sci-fi sound effects, lurid voodoo chants, spacey guitar distortion and go-go dance rhythms. Like Waters, Powers is a gay aesthete whose droll wit and love of American popular culture comes imbued with a brilliantly eccentric streak. 

“I still like doing experimental things,” says Powers. “It keeps things fresh. I’m a big proponent of mixing styles to create a new language. Visual art is so inspirational to music. I often get asked to collaborate with artists in other mediums and I always enjoy it.”

As a guitarist whose influence can be heard in all manner of young garage bands I wondered what Powers made of contemporary rock music.

“Indie rock is pretty dull. Most of those young Brooklyn bands are just so earnest and unimaginative. But there are good bands out there. I’m older but still privy to what young people are doing and I think there’s still a nice underground scene happening. I think that primal energy still seeps down and infects certain bands.” 

Having made his mark as a youth who deconstructed blues and rockabilly Powers is now, at 54, something of a veteran rocker.

“I come from the Link Wray tradition of guitar playing – nice and raw. One thing that I’m very proud of is that I don’t betray the aesthetic but I don’t want to be a purist, a grouch rock snob. I’m open minded to its on-going mutation and that keeps it alive – I find a strict revivalist music very dull. I can go and listen to the originals. I don’t want to put it in a coffin.” 

Powers mentions “my husband” and it turns out that the recent legalisation of gay marriage in several US states enabled Powers and his partner to get married in June. 

“We’ve been together for eight years and then we got married and now I have health insurance!” He laughs with glee. “We got married for love but a month later we found out that I was entitled as his partner to be covered for health insurance. So this is cool.”

Kid hits the UK once or twice a year with his great band The Pink Monkey Birds and, damn, they are just about the greatest garage rock'n'roll band going right now. Very tight and dynamic and Kid is so much fun. And they play several Gun Club classics and a couple of Cramps classics. So I'm in heaven!

I'm a huge fan of The Gun Club's Fire Of Love album - my favourite rock debut album ever ever ever! - so bugged Kid with questions about his late "brother" Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Answers below for all you Gun Club fans. And a Lux Interior question too. Oh, Kid is in contact with Ivy and says he has invited her to join him on stage but, right now, she's still mourning and not interested in making music. I hope she comes back and it would be great to see her sharing the stage with Kid!

GC: How did you get the name Kid Congo Powers?

KCP: When I was asked to join the Cramps I needed a Cramps name. My original suggestion was Brian Gris Gris but they didn’t like it. Too reminiscent of their last guitarist! (laughs) We made lists. Lux had a santaria candle and it was a Congo candle and the instructions said that when you light this candle you will unleash congo powers. Well, there was the name. I added Kid as I always liked Kid Thomas as a musician and thought it had the sound of a boxer or something.

GC: El Monte is a very Hispanic suburb of LA – what was it like growing up there?

KCP: I’m actually from La Puente which is next door to El Monte. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was from El Monte. It’s a coincidence that we are from the same area of the Valley. We didn’t know one another when growing up but, sure, it’s the Hispanic Valley. Not the Valley Girl vanilla Valley.

GC: Growing up Chicano and being into all kinds of crazy rock’n’roll – did this make you a bit of a freak amongst your contemporaries?

KCP: Actually, lots of Chicanos are rock 'n' roll people. It’s a mistake to think that Mexicans only listen to Mexican music. The low-riders loved “oldies but goodies” and a lot of that is 50s rock and r&b. Other acts that were big with Chicanos when I was growing up were Hendrix, Black Sabbath – I think Chicanos have all this doomed Catholic imagery and so Sabbath went down well with them. LA Catholicism is all about blood and tears. (laughs) It’s the same today – lots of Mexican Goths and Morrissey is very popular. 

GC: I heard Morrissey asked about his Hispanic following on Desert Island Discs today and he said they related to his passion.

KCP: That’s it! (laughs) We dig the passion. Yeah!

GC: You cover a tune by East LA’s finest Thee Midniters on Dracula Boots. Were you enthusiastic about Chicano rock’n’roll acts when you were growing up?

KCP: I have two older sisters and when they and my female cousins were getting ready to go out to concerts, well, I was a preteen so I couldn’t go with them but I recall when Thee Midniters were playing they’d be so excited. And I wanted to be part of that excitement. And I never lost my desire to be part of that excitement. Thee Midniters were a huge deal with Mexicans in LA but it wasn’t until later when I started to make records that I checked out their records and I can’t imagine anything more rock’n’roll than Thee Midniters. They were a great band! I find myself inspired by them today.

GC: Jeffrey Lee Pierce had a Mexican mother, right? Did you two bond over your shared Mexican roots?

KCP: Yeah, we always bonded on the Mexican thing but it was always a point of humour for us. We were enough Mexican to feel outsiders but there were lots of Mexicans involved in the LA punk scene so there was never any racial antagonism and we never waved the Mexican flag and made a big deal about it. 

GC: When did you decide that you wanted to be a rock’n’roll musician?

KCP: I don’t think there was ever any question. From a young, young age I was excited about why my sisters were excited about. When I did start listening to music I looked for that kind of excitement. I had a lot of mentors as I found my way into underground culture. Music. Comics. Record collecting. Old movies. I didn’t have to look far to seek it out.

GC: And it was through those enthusiasms that you met Jeffrey Lee?

KCP: Yeah, we shared mutual enthusiasms. I’d been to London in – when was it? 1977 or 78? It was on a school trip and as soon as we got here I ran away and went off to these punk clubs and it was just great. On the way back we stopped off in New York and I took off to find CBGBs. Back then it was very easy to meet people, very tribe like. The movement had not been co-opted. It was very much a pre-internet phenomenon. An explosion of excitement. I started going out to clubs in the early 70s. I used to go to Rodney Bingheimers English Disco – now I wonder how they bothered to let us underage kids into this club? I guess it’s cos the club was about 15 year old girls so you would put your arm around a 15 year old girl and get in. He’d play Bowie, T Rex, Mott. I saw Steve Harley, Alex Harvey – I was a real Anglophile. Then I saw the Dolls and they opened all the channels. I met Jeffrey first at record collector meets and then began to bump into him at Ramones and Patti Smith gigs. 

GC: So you two formed Creeping Ritual which evolved into The Gun Club? 

KCP:  Yeah, we were huge Cramps fans and Jeffrey had the idea that we could do something similar. Jeffrey was a music nerd and I was a music nerd. We liked getting really drunk. And both of us were very interested and curious about all kinds of things. He had little or no social skills. So a lot of things were on his terms. He said ‘we should form a band and you be singer’ and I went ‘no way’ so he said ‘we should form a band and you play guitar’ and I said ‘I can’t play guitar’ and he replied ‘if you get one I’ll teach you how to play guitar like an old bluesman in E. I was lent a guitar by a friend and then Jeffrey Lee taught he how to play in E and gave me a Bo Diddley album and said ‘strum like he does’. Creeping Ritual were awful. I mean, we had fun but we were pretentious. We tried to do Dylan’s Tombstone Blues and War’s Slipping Into Darkness – try and play that with a drummer who can’t drum! Some bad reggae. I recently found some tapes of Creeping Ritual and when I mentioned this all the hardcore fans start drooling so I went and listened to the tapes and they were awful. No one is every going to allow them to come out! Then Rob and Terry joined up on bass and drums. They had been in the LA punk band The Bags and this changed everything. Having a real rhythm section just pushed us forward and we made fast work of a few more things. Our idea was to mix as many different styles together as possible. It was at the time of the whole No Wave thing of mixing styles in order to create a new language that spoke as music. The Cramps had achieved this and we were aware that it wasn’t just county mixed with punk that would work. You had to put other elements in to make it work. 

GC:  Fire Of Love is one of the great rock debut albums and, for my money, the best rock album of the 80s. You helped shape those songs then left to join The Cramps before the album was recorded. How did that job offer come about?

KCP: It was like a dream come true. I joined and literally was thrown in at the deep end of the pool. Was I going to sink or to swim? I’d only been playing guitar a year or a year and a half tops. I had a great respect for them and they were very good teachers. It was a crazy, crazy, crazy time. The Cramps were uncalculated then. Lux was magical. He’d be doing stuff I can’t imagine how he got away with. He’d leap into the audience and come out wearing some girl’s skirt. I’d never tried to copy Bryan Gregory’s guitar style. Instead, my idea was to make it heavier and solo. I wasn’t a well versed guitar player and Ivy had to translate  things into open E tuning. I was in effect the band’s bass player. I’d create fuzz throb for Ivy to solo over. It was a great way to learn. Unconventional. A good experimental time. I learnt to play in a very different style from what I had been doing in The Gun Club. 

GC: You were in The Cramps from 1981-83 and then you returned to The Gun Club. What was that about and how did it go teaming up again with Jeffrey Lee who now also had an international following?

KCP: With The Cramps there were long periods of dead time due to legal battles with IRS. We couldn’t record and we weren’t touring often. The end was coming. And when we weren’t making music I became more interested in drugs than music so I needed to make music. Very kindly Lux and Ivy allowed me to leave rather than firing me and we’ve always remained on really good terms. I think only I and Nick Knox have left The Cramps and remained on good terms with them! With Jeffrey, well, we were on the same plain so that was good. Both on the same professional level. No growing pains. Our attitude was “let’s make some music”. He moved in with me for a while – it was book reading, movie watching, banter. We influenced one another artistically. The bad influence was we both encouraged one another’s drug and alcohol intake.

GC: It strikes me that right from the start Jeffrey Lee was a very gifted songwriter and something of a musical visionary. He also was very self-destructive. What’s your take on how he could be so talented yet so messed up?

KCP: Jeffrey was very advanced. He had strong interests in theatre and literature. And if you love music enough you know what you want. He was also a big dreamer. A big enough dreamer to actually make some of his dreams work. We had a relationship like brothers. I now realise we both grew up only with sisters so we bonded like brothers and related to one another as brothers. He was not an easy person – very self centred – but he was an amazing songwriter and I knew when we worked together that it went well.

GC: Your friendship endured to the end even thought you quit the Gun Club a couple of times. Did you ever try and help him deal with his addictions?

KCP: The thing is, I was disintegrating at that time myself. He had a denial mechanism whenever his behaviour was brought up. I didn’t get that part of him. I tried to help him, tried to get him into hospital but he didn’t want help. The last time I saw him I didn’t recognise him. He was very bloated. Not good. I’m not going to compare him to Michael Jackson but I’ve just seen that Jackson film and I could see the similarities in the way that both were in control on stage and helpless off it. You end up asking – which one is he? The animated one on stage? Or this mess? This shell of a person? I had a phone conversation with him a week before he passed always and he was reading me passages from his autobiography and some of it didn’t really make sense, was kind of scrambled, but we laughed so much. After he died I went through a lot of stuff and I got worse with my own problems. I didn’t want to admit how much his death was affecting me.

GC: Dracula Boots is a great album. It sounds like you’re acting your age, having a good time, enjoying yourself hugely. 

KCP: I wanted to make a fun record. I was really spurred on by seeing The Cramps in 2006. What turned out to be their last tour. I hadn’t seen them in concert for many years and they were astonishing. I realised ‘this is something I’m a part of’ and I wanted to tap into it. So my philosophy was ‘keep it simple. Don’t be afraid to be stupid, to have fun. Don’t be artsy.’ 

GC: Have you always made a living from playing music? There was a long period when I didn’t hear anything about you?http://alligatorjustice.blogspot.com/2013/12/kid-congo-powers.html

KCP: I worked for a bunch of years in New York selling vintage clothes. Store manager. A very cool shop. I was making music the whole time but I wasn’t trying to make a living out of it. I want to make music all the time now but I don’t want to redo what I’ve done before – what good would that be? 


Add a comment

Friday, August 07, 2015

Kid Congo Powers top 3 recording experiences for Fused magazine

Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds


Kid Congo Powers, the Legendary hip slinger guitar stylist, has been a member The Gun Club, The Cramps, and a Bad Seed with Nick Cave. He has pristine rock ‘n’ roll credentials and an impeccable back catalogue stretching over three decades. He’s been in more cool bands than you’ve had hair cuts and now with the Pink Monkey Birds, he’s laying the foundations with lascivious psyched-up perfection.
The Cramps. She Said, 1980.
Recording with The Cramps was my first recording experience ever! The recording was for the Psychedelic Jungle album at A&M Studios in Hollywood, home of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Although there were many moments to remember, like borrowing Karen Carpenter’s crash symbol for the song ‘Don’t Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk,’ it’s the cover of wild man Hasil Adkins song, She Said which is seared into my brain.
First off, it has very little structure; other than a chorus which explodes around the world’s craziest monologue. Getting it right is a delicate balance of instinct and wits. We did a take or two but Lux Interior was not satisfied with his vocal performance, so he shoved a Styrofoam cup into his mouth to achieve the perfect Hasil Adkins’ pitch. The song came alive as the band hollered screamed and whistled all the way through it as we played. At one point you can hear (drummer) Nick Knox knocking over a giant standing metal ashtray as it clanged to the studio floor. It was at that moment I became a believer in the notion that magic most certainly does happen in the recording process. The conduit could be as simple as a Styrofoam cup in the mouth. Take note.
kid congo powers
The Gun Club. Walking with the Beast, 1984.
When The Gun Club was recording the Las Vegas Story LP at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, the producer, Jeff Eyrich, got us time during the graveyard shift (11pm to 6am in the morning). In the adjacent studio during these hours was Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac). Ry Cooder was in our studio daytimes, I believe recording the Soundtrack to the Wim Wenders’ film ‘Paris Texas’. One day I walk into the recording room and saw Jeffrey Lee Pierce pick up a blue plastic tube from the Cooder pile of junk in a corner, I think percussion instruments. He started swinging it above his head, creating a sound like high-pitched wind. Our friend Phast Phreddie walked in and picked up a green tube then me and Terry Graham picked up the yellow and pink tubes, whirling the whirleys around our heads creating quite the ominous wind storm. It looked like one of those hills with the solar power propellers spinning on them, creating psychedelic sustainable energy. Luckily Jeff Eyrich was in the control room and flipped the switch on the tape recorder. When we recorded the rest of the song Walking With The Beast Jeff said: “Play as loud as you want” so we turned the amps up to 11. Happy accidents reign supreme.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. From Her To Eternity for Wings Of Desire Soundtrack. Late ‘80s.
For me, this was a particularly charged session on many levels. Not only was it one of my first duties as a Bad Seed, it was my first time in the legendary Hansa Tonstudio, snuggled up against the Berlin Wall. Iggy Pop recorded ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’ there. David Bowie recorded ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ there. Boney M recorded there! It was a palace full of special magic in my eyes and ears. To top it off, we were to appear, as ourselves, in the Wim Wenders film, ‘Der Himmel über Berlin’ (Wings Of Desire) in the coming days. We were laying down the playback. I love being part of movie magic. Although the song ‘From Her To Eternity’ had been previously recorded, the live version had become a beast of its own. The band at the time was Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Thomas Wydler, Blixa Bargeld with new members, Roland Wolf and myself. As was par for the course in 1980s Berlin underground, the studio was overflowing with artists, eccentrics, and other musicians having existential speed talks that made your brain want to explode. In this atmosphere we got the track down in no time at all; or was it all night? Anyways, it sounds great in the film. I’m proud to be a part of it all.
Words: David O’Coy
Illustrations: NewTasty
Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds album ‘Haunted Head’ is out now.http://www.fusedmagazine.co.uk

Monday, July 13, 2015

Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds JULY  2015 EAST COAST DATES:
7/22/2015  - Portland, ME - SPACE Gallery
7/23/2015 - Providence, RI - Columbus Theater Upstairs
7/24/2015  - Montpelier, VT - Vermont College of Fine Arts
7/25/2015 - Brooklyn, NY - Union Pool (Summer Thunder - daytime) 2pm free show! 
7/26/2015  - New York, NY - Bowery Electric  support is Norman Westberg of Swans !

"Kid Congo's career is one for the (music) history books." Westword
photo by Martina Fornace