“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.
No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.
An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.
How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.
So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.
Q: How Goes Work On Your Book About Punk Rock’s Development In Regions Outside The United Kingdom & United States?
A: Work is constant. I wake up thinking about the book. I hit the bed thinking about it. The time between is a big loop of researching, reading, and writing (don’t worry, I give myself time off to eat and monitor Misfits reunion rumors). The whole thing can feel overwhelming but in a very positive way. It is exactly what I want to be doing right now. Also, Clowny Clown has been to this rodeo before. The abject fear that pressed down on me as I worked on This Music Leaves Stains a few years ago is gone. I know what to expect, not just from the process but from myself.
In case you’ve forgotten the pertinent details of this tome, the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group will be releasing my nearly 400 page exploration of punk rock’s development on the international level in October 2017. Learn all about the shape of ferocious underground rock music as it grew in places like Russia, Japan, China, Africa, Belgium, Brazil, Nepal, Poland, and even the Canary Islands. Like Stains, the first edition will be hardcover, and if that son of a carpenter pops off sales-wise they’ll do softcover. No title yet but I assure you it won’t be Mr. Jim’s Mondo Punko.
Dangerous Rhythm, one of Mexico’s first punk outfits, circa 1979. That same year they released their first single, “No No No.” Clack here to hear it.
If you’d like to help out with some of the costs that accompany researching a project of this nature (and believe me, there are costs), feel free to visit the GoFundMe page for this friggin’ thing. Every cent is appreciated.
What else can I say? Thanks to youse all for the support and interest, it’s a hell of a thing and I’m happy to have it. Hope you enjoy the book when it’s done. Can’t wait to see it in your grubby little hands.
What a fine time to remind you I am the author of This Music Leaves Stains: The Complete Story of The Misfits (not so complete any more), available for purchase here. The Austin Chronicle likes it, saying I “pull no punches” as I “accurately and respectfully” barrel through the group’s saga. Psychobabble claims this volume is “informative” and “thorough” and “pretty much anyone will get a kick out of it.” You know what? I don’t think it’s too bad either.
Here’s something you can do for free: take a look at the online photographic supplement for This Music Leaves Stains and see a wealth of Misfits imagery I couldn’t afford to license for print publication. Imagery like the photograph above. Look at that goddamn punk rocker. He’s sick of everybody’s shit.
If you’re curious how a dope like me wound up writing a book like that in the first place, this interview might help explain a thing or three.
Thank you for your interest and consideration. We remain one thirty eight.
Perhaps you know I am currently working on a book that will explore punk rock’s development in Europe, Asia, South America, and other corners of the planet that aren’t the U.S. & U.K. Research can get expensive and obviously I’d like to make the thing as boss as possible so when Rowman & Littlefield put it on shelves in October of 2017 you can look at it and say, “Goddamn! That’s a proper book.” So look deep in your heart and possibly your couch cushions and consider donating to the associated campaign:
Thank you for your consideration, however fleeting. Here now, apropos of nothing, is a photo of Bruce Willis in a bunny costume.
The other Jersey boys: Glenn & Jerry, 1978. Photo by Ken Caiafa.
If you think the legal skull-banging between Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only ended in August of 2014 when Judge Gary Klausner threw out Danzig’s lawsuit against Only for breach of contract, think again. Danzig amended his complaint and the case over who owns the logos and trademarks pertaining to the Misfits drags on; opening briefs related to Danzig’s most recent appeal of a summary judgment Only won in April 2015 are being filed this month.
And yet, in an incredible shock, this entire affair was nearly settled over the winter holiday of 2014 by having Danzig rejoin the Misfits. That December, Danzig’s attorney suggested his client (who dissolved the group in 1983 after a six year run) and the defendant (who reformed the Misfits without Danzig in 1995) agree to a certain amount of reunion concerts, split the profits, split all future revenue from the disputed trademarks, and consider entering a new licensing agreement together with a major merchandiser. Only was receptive, so negotiations began for the first Misfits shows with Danzig in thirty years.
A proposed 60/40 reunion profit split in Danzig’s favor was leveled to 50/50. A ten date concert tour shrank down to six—but “at least one” reunion album was added. All other participating Misfits, no matter what their stature, were to be treated as “paid employees.” In response to Only’s demand for built-in protections to ensure Danzig would actually follow through with these gigs, Danzig’s attorney wrote, “I really don’t think this will be an issue as Danzig wants to do the reunion shows” (a $250k penalty was put in place should either party fail to complete the reunion obligations).
Initially Danzig envisioned the reunion happening in 2017 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Misfits. Only wanted it “as soon as practicable.” Only also wasn’t fond of billing these performances as “the Original Misfits” (though no alternate name was suggested). The real breakdown, however, was over the same trademark issues that instigated Danzig’s lawsuit in the first place. Confusion as well as contention remained over who owned what and who was entitled to how much of any given piece of Misfits imagery. Specifics failed to be clarified, certain copyrights could not be identified, documents proving anything conclusively could not be produced.
The two sides went back and forth until February 10, 2015, when Danzig’s attorney ended an e-mail by saying, “it appears we are going to try this case.”
Dovetailing with that was some rigamarole over depositions each party was to give that month. Danzig felt he wasn’t given enough time to prepare for his scheduled deposition so he bailed at the last minute; meanwhile, Only and his co-defendant, Misfits manager John Cafiero, refused to commit to any deposition date or agreement. On April 15, the defendants were awarded their summary judgment because Danzig had provided no evidence of the pre-existing business relations that Only is alleged to have sabotaged with his fraudulent ownership and representation of Misfits trademarks. Danzig also could not prove “lost economic advantage” from Only’s activities, nor could he outline “triable facts” concerning Only misrepresenting the famed Misfits skull logo (a.k.a. the Fiend Skull, a.k.a. the Crimson Ghost).
The information above is sourced from a forest of court documents that are available to anyone via Pacer.gov and probably a few other less bullshitty legal repositories (Bortz Law first posted excerpts from said documents on their blog in October 2015; for whatever reason, Bortz’s post didn’t reach fiends until very recently). The case is Glenn Danzig v. Gerald Caiafa et al in the California Central District and at this point it could be a book unto itself. There’s a great subplot that debates whether or not Danzig performing a Misfits song in any context constitutes a performance by the Misfits.
If I hadn’t seen it all in PDF form myself I wouldn’t believe it. The American judicial system almost returned to us the Original Recipe Misfits. Concerts are one thing, but I can’t stop thinking about the reunion album. What in the hell would that be like? What could they call it? Settlement A.D.?
Parties Agree Not To Disparage Each Other Publicly, that would be a good title. It’s my favorite of all the terms they reached for this proposed reunion.
Pleased as goddamn punch to announce my next book, an exploration of punk rock’s development outside the United States and the United Kingdom, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in the Fall of 2017. No title yet but I promise nearly 400 pages that will immerse you in the history, culture, and music of undergrounds across the globe. Looking forward to y’all readin’.
Pictured: the Stalin, one of Japan’s more notorious acts.
A childhood friendship with drummer Tommy Ramone helped Monte A. Melnick get in at the ground floor with punk rock founders the Ramones. Having previously cycled through his own musical act Thirty Days Out (who squeezed out two albums for Warner Reprise), Melnick already possessed a working knowledge of the professional music business when the Ramones invited him to start running sound for them in the midtolate 1970s. This evolved into a two decade stint as the band’s tour manager.
In addition to setting up concert dates with all manner of venues, booking hotel rooms for every tour stop, figuring out a tour budget (including travel expenses and band and crew per diems), arranging for proper transportation, and literally mapping out all travel routes (many of which he drove himself in the Ramones’ famously cramped van), Melnick also had to contend with the unpredictable personalities of his musicians, their roadies, and the expected hiccups that come with being a traveling rock group.
Having authored a fascinating book about his experiences (On The Road With The Ramones) and currently working as the 3D Theater & Audio Visual Supervisor at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, I recently spoke with Monte about the ins and outs of tour managing, some of the larger struggles he faced, and his advice for newcomers to the field.
JAMES GREENE, JR: Musicians often complain about all the down time they have while touring, but that doesn’t sound like something tour managers get to experience. Seems like you’re working from the minute you get up until the minute you’re allowed to go to sleep. Did you ever get to relax or relieve that stress?
MONTE A. MELNICK: The stress was there all the time, yeah, and some times it would get really intense, but then it would pass. It was never too much to handle. And, you know, I feel very lucky that I had what I had with the Ramones. Most tour managers never work with one band that long. They do one or two tours and move on, try to find to another artist to work with. The Ramones liked me, though, so they kept me on all those years. As for down time, in the early days it was very hectic…we’d go from city to city with no real breaks, because that’s how booking agents would set it up. Booking agents are your key to breaking into established venues and markets, so you’re not stuck forever playing crappy place for no money, but back then nobody really knew what to do with the Ramones or where they would go over. So the bookers rushed us all over the place. There wasn’t much down time then, but later on, when the band got bigger, then we could afford to spend a couple days in a city and I’d have time to relax, go check things out.
JG2: Would you always work with the same booking agent, or did you have different people?
MAM: In the beginning it was kind of trial and error, we’d used many different booking agents, but eventually we found Premier Talent, and they were very good with us.
JG2: It’s interesting to hear about stuff like booking agents with the Ramones, because they’re the considered a king punk band, yet they clearly operated outside what is accepted today as punk rock’s d.i.y. aesthetic.
MAM: Yeah, the Ramones started the punk movement, but they were never that kind of band, like the hardcore punk bands that came later. They had a sound and a vision and they wanted it to be on a certain level, that was always the plan. Hence the record companies and the booking agents. The only way they were gonna get big was if they worked with agents and promoters who could get them into the big venues. And once you got in there and if they liked you, they’d want you back…so you’d have some leverage, which is of course where tour riders come in. “We’ll come back if you give us this, this, and this,” y’know? Venues who want bands to come back go out of their way to really treat them and make them feel at home. It was great in the later years when, say, in Norfolk, Virginia they’d want us to come and we could get a club to serve us crab cakes. You could always negotiate your way into some local cuisine. Early on, though, the crappy clubs who didn’t really care about the Ramones, they’d give you Mom’s spaghetti or whatever.
JG2: And the rider is also how you could charge a club for bringing in your own sound equipment and transportation fees, correct?
MAM: Yeah, like I said, when the clubs want you back you can work out all those expenses, because you’re bringing business to their club.
JG2: What were some of the biggest obstacles of the entire Ramones tour managing experience for you?
MAM: Just the changes in the band, you know? Going through eight different Ramones, and all their different personalities. [None of them] liked sleeping on a tour bus, which is what most rock bands do, so in the United States we developed something interesting in terms of tour strategy. We created this system where they’d go off and do little sections of country at a time as opposed to one long tour. They’d fly out to some part of the country, a van would be waiting for them, and they’d drive all over that one part of the country for a bit and fly home. The crew we’d stick on buses because they had to get to the venues ahead of time to load in and set up all the equipment, so it was kind of weird sometimes, pulling into these places with the crew on the big buses and the band pulling up in their little van. And the crew was a whole other group with differing personalities, you had to be aware of that. The next biggest issue probably was getting the equipment stolen, which didn’t happen frequently but happened enough times to really throw things out of whack. You really end up scratching your head when everything disappears. [Going to Guitar Center and] buying everything back, you don’t realize how many cables and picks and stuff you really use. Luckily the record company helped us with the [financial] loss. We never recovered any of that stuff.
JG2: When you started working with the Ramones, did you feel you already had a handle on the job because of your previous musical experiences or was there still a learning curve?
MAM: Well, I mean, nobody knew what the hell the Ramones were supposed to be. And I didn’t really like ’em at first, y’know, I was coming from a band with three part harmonies and all that. But they were still a basic rock band, and they knew what they wanted to accomplish, so in that sense it was easy. It just all kind of evolved.
JG2: Are there any pockets of time you’d want to do over, or do differently? It seems like you ran a pretty tight ship with few major problems.
MAM: [laughs] Are you kidding? There were problems all over the place! They were a crazy band…and there’s plenty of stuff you just can’t prepare for, like what we ran into in Argentina, where unbeknownst to us the Ramones were so popular there were thousands of fans swarming outside the hotel. The Ramones never experienced that before! We had no idea they were that popular down there. We were staying at this hotel with a one way exit that emptied right into the street, and there’s thousands of kids pounding on the van as we’re trying to leave. The band’s yelling at me the whole time, like it’s my fault. It was good, though, because they finally got a taste of the superstar treatment. They deserved that, but it sucked because they couldn’t go anywhere, they couldn’t go out and see stuff in Buenos Aires. Now they’re superstars everywhere. The Ramones the biggest thing now. The first record just went gold a few weeks ago, after thirtyeight years. Go figure. And have you seen that Cadillac commercial? The narrator goes: “Apple, the Wright Brothers, the Ramones…” They’re being lumped in with the Wright Brothers and Apple! It’s crazy!
JG2: Can you explain how you found your way to the NY Hall of Science?
MAM: Well, after the Ramones retired in 1996, I worked for several other [artists], like D Generation and Ronnie Spector. I knew about the Hall of Science because I used to live near by, I was just checking out different stuff I might do, y’know? So I got in touch with them and asked if they were hiring. They said no, but they’re always looking for volunteers. So I started volunteering, doing audio visual stuff, which is always a great way to get your foot in the door, and eventually they hired me. Now I’ve been there 11 years and I really like it. I’m in one place now and I’m not feeling the stress of having to travel all the time. I do still like to travel, though, just not like how the Ramones would tour. Y’know, I’ll fly to California to see my sister, that kind of thing. It’s funny, I racked up all these frequent flyer miles with the Ramones but the last thing I wanna do now is get on another plane! I think that’s how these airlines get away with not having you use you frequent flyer miles if you earned a lot of them.
JG2: Do you have advice for anyone who’d like to start in tour managing?
MAM: Yeah, find a band or a musical act you like, one that you think might go somewhere, and just try to start working with them however you can. You might not start out where you want to be, but you can work your way up and if they’re talented and you work hard you could really go places.