Something very strange happened in suburban teenage America shortly after the 1991 Christmas holiday. The jock boys who used to pick on weirdos, punks, and nerds were suddenly wearing mohawks, Black Flag t-shirts, and ripped jeans. The cheerleaders and preppy girls who once poked fun at all the low budget thrift store styles preferred by arty kids and goth chicks were suddenly showing up to school in clashing plaid skirts and socks, dying their hair pink, and stomping about in the skinhead approved Doctor Marten brand boots. Only a few short weeks before that Christmas skinheads could be found ripping these same boots off of the beat up bodies of so-called posers, kids who wanted to be skinheads but were judged unworthy of that subculture’s tough title therefore unworthy of the right to wear the skinhead scene’s boot of choice. Needless to say, fresh faced upper middle class girls who began appropriating Docs as high fashion did not receive a beat down from the bomber jacket brigade.
The catalyst for this tectonic shift in the 1990’s U.S. youth culture came almost completely from one major pop phenomenon: the late 1991 release and subsequent multi platinum success of Nirvana’s album “Nevermind”. Over the U.S. Christmas holiday break it seemed as if every American teen received this record as a gift and in some cases it was a gift that came with the pre-requisite punk fashion accessories mentioned above or even guitars, amps, and ‘fake books’ containing the written chords and arrangements to Nirvana songs. Describing themselves as a ‘punk tribute’ band, Nirvana came to define the new alternative rock attitude and style that would go on to become signatures of the 90’s: pleasantly melodic, classic rock songwriting steeped in the rage infested dynamics of early hardcore, punk rock, post-punk, and garage rock and performed by shabbily dressed, stoned out rockers with plenty of nihilistic chutzpah to spare.
This esoteric stuff had already been existent for nearly 40 years prior to Nirvana’s breakout success. It was old hat to overseas audiences who mostly had their punk fad era explode during the late 70’s and early 80’s; the niche American fans of underground rock began their obsession with punk and all of its subgenres at about the same time, so by the 90’s most of the world viewed Nirvana and their grungy ilk more as the final nail in punk’s d.i.y. credibility than the ‘breath of fresh air’ they seemed to be when put up against the previous decade’s unabashedly antiseptic synth-pop a.k.a. the kind of music that most ‘normal’ American teens had been o.d.-ing on throughout the post disco/pre alt rock era.
While some underground counter culture veterans felt that Nirvana and the alt rock explosion represented the sad/unceremonious end of an era, the performance art pranksters from the Towson-Glen Arm act Lard Star – three obnoxious whipper snappers from the rural enclave of north Baltimore County Maryland, U.S.A. – thought the ultra-commercialization of the underground’s final frontier was absolutely fucking hilarious. All the hard work that the supposedly edgy, anti-authoritarian iconoclasts put in to make punk culture a safe haven for only the disenfranchised element of western society could not stop the ever present juggernaut of American capitalism from transforming even the most irreverent punk sentiments into fodder for mega-bucks marketing campaigns and disposable pop fads that were no more or less threatening to the status quo than Pac Man or lava lamps. As a result, in the 90’s punk became quirky and innocuous – a musical comfort food, the cultural equivalent of microwavable mac and cheese. The beautiful hilarious irony of it all was un-ignorable, so Lard Star set out to immortalize punk’s awkward pay day with Rabelaisian grandeur.
Just because Lard Star refused to recognize the counter-cultural sanctity of punk, however, didn’t mean that the group was against using the then newly over saturated aesthetic to create great songs and recordings. Though primarily a part of an extensive multi-media performance art project that had been ongoing for nearly 2 years prior to their spring 1994 formation **, Lard Star – particularly inspired by Frank Zappa’s classic anti-commercial 60’s pop double album “Freak Out” – chose to slightly subvert the avant garde ‘routine’ by using the medium of extremely silly hardcore as a soundtrack for the politically charged absurdity of the Towson-Glen Arm movement. The TGA kids ate it up hand over fist, and to this day many TGA alumnus remember Lard Star as the scene’s best band.
But don’t take my word for it, consider the following words of praise from early TGA artist and Lard Star mega-fan supreme Chris Teret:
Lard Star was Mike Apichella, usually on vocals, Cory Davolos, usually on guitar, and Jon Woodstock, usually on drums. They made their debut in 1994 at a show in someone’s backyard in the spring. I remember Mike singing with his head inside the bass drum, laying on the grass, for most of their set. Before every song, they would say, “This one’s about Glen Arm,” which is the name of the rural, past-the-suburbs-of-Baltimore town they were from. I have memories of them from other shows too, blazing speed, ear-splitting volume inside basements mostly. Mike was like Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger combined with another thing that I can’t even explain except to say that his aspect blew apart the false opposites of sincerity and irony.
Their songs reveal a deep love and hatred for the rural area where they lived, a deep love and hatred for the hardcore punk that formed the basis of their music, a hugely exuberant fun combined with a deep nihilism. There was always humor and almost always rock solid, foundationally danceable rock n roll beats. The more I talk about them the further I seem to get from capturing why they were so great, so I’ll just tell you—find a way to hear their music. As a further prodding to whet your appetite, here are my unauthorized, unsolicited liner notes for several tracks from their incredible tape Glen Arm Garageband Hotshots:
“Glen Arm (in the summer)”
Typically atypical as a choice for the first song… Anyway, this one is a charming song about teenage summer, with masterful cowbell, a catchy chorus, none of the abrasive insanity that Lardstar was known for. The wrong notes on the bass remind me of what Thelonious Monk said, “There are no wrong notes on the piano!” “Glenarm in the summer/all the kids are out of school…I like Glenarm in the summer…”
“No Doze OD”
Now here’s where the real Lardstar kicks in. This song begins with an incomprehensible angry yelp, guitar feedback, and really fast drums, then proceeds to tell a story with humor and pathos, “My girlfriend od’d on No Doze!/I’m gonna blow up the store she got it from!/Fuck that store, I want my girlfriend back…”And then it miraculously is all over in like 30 seconds! What!?!?
The disorientation continues. An incredible beat/riff with Mike yelling “All I see is the back o’ yer hand!”…
“Time fer Drugs”
This song begins with the guitar looking for an idea, some way to start the song, and it appears out of nowhere, an awesome classic rock riff and the hardcore drums come right in. Mike’s talk about drugs has to be some weird form of social commentary, at the time he had nothing to do with drugs, but of course they were around and had an impact on the scene.
I love the beginning of this song. You hear Cory saying “This feedback is just, like, I don’t know, it’s just…” and then you hear them sort of teaching each other the song as the song is getting started, as if they’re on a deadline or something. Then Mike lets loose a scream that drowns out all other sound, and when it lets up you hear fast-beyond-fast music and lyrics about pizza? “Mushrooms, green peppers, onions, the works! Mushrooms, green peppers, onions, the works!”
“Thinkin’ bout Flesh”
I think this song might be about eating humans, but more importantly it’s like the perfect marriage of punk rock and classic rock radio…
Jon Woodstock sings this one, and I know the band would say it’s just a joke song, but I’m here to tell you that you will never find a more sincere and truthful song about farts as long as you look. “I hate the way farts smell/when I catch a whiff of one my life is a living hell/they are so gross they just make me feel like throwin’ up/ but I realize we need them.” How can you argue with that?
Kind of a one-line joke, but rippingly accomplished.
So, I don’t know why I love this song so much, but I’ll just tell you that Mike sings “I got a deep wound in my head/ and it makes me feel like I’m dead” and then starts to sound like a chattering squirrel and then says “fuck, fuck, you’re just…ah, shit!”
This is a beautiful song and I don’t know how it made it out of the Lardstar cauldron, I also don’t know how it didn’t become a hit song. “I didn’t know/that you were a backstabber!”
The best thing about this song is the way Mike says “Huh!” at the beginning of the song. Or maybe it’s more like “Hooh!” Anyway, it sounds like Iggy on a Stooges record.
Check this one out: “Something, I don’t know what/Something…” and then the song’s over! In 5 seconds! Wow!
“I’m a Rustic”
The loving side of Lard Star’s feelings about rural Maryland. “I hate the city/Don’t like the town/The country’s where/I like to hang around/’Cause I’m a rustic/tall buildings, traffic, crowds make me sick!”
“Radio Tower Blues.”
This is where Led Zeppelin should go to school. This song. And then go home crying, and apologizing.
“I Smell Corn”
Definitely a masterpiece. The hate side of their feelings about rural Maryland. “I smell corn on the streets of your fuckin town every fuckin day/The corn and the shit and the cows all over my driveway!!!”
Imagine if you took Minor Threat, the Sex Pistols, and the Stooges, put them in a pot together, and boiled them like sap for maple syrup. The syrup is this song.
“We Like That”
The song comes in like a crashing train, then out of the mess appears a godly riff. Lyrics almost like Dr Seuss, including the great line “16, 15, 14, 13”.
This is a cover of a Byrds song. Surprisingly faithful.
“Blood of Chavo”
Painful noisy meditation on the subject of a pre-Henry Rollins singer of Black Flag. Featuring Apichella on lead guitar and vocals.
So if you actually read all this, you can certainly handle listening to the whole tape, and you won’t regret it. Thank God there are still things in this world that are beautiful, mysterious, and hard to find.”
Chris Teret was one of the founding members of The Nudists, the first Towson-Glen Arm act to release recordings. He also co-founded The Towson-Glen Arm Unity Coalition, and was a part of many other TGA projects/bands including The Preschoolers’ wildest line up. After completing his studies at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, NY , Teret continued to work creating music with fellow TGA artist Steph R., as well as briefly serving as a union organizer. Chris Teret also currently creates solo music and works with the great folk rock bands Company and Snaex.
** Check out the earliest blog here (‘Towson-Glen Arm Time Line’) and this link to a recent TGAF entry to better understand Lard Star as a component of the Apichella/Davolos/Woodstock multi-media art project: https://towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/the-retarded-dogs-and-the-first-underground-concert-in-glen-arm/