Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Joe Nelson - The Good Brains and The Blue Ghost


The Bad Brains 2008

Resident west coast DCXX connection, Joe Nelson, gets back with us to fill us in on a recent weekend romp with HC's greatest of all time. -Gordo DCXX


Over the weekend of November 8th and 9th I ventured out to Austin, TX to catch the "Fun Fun Fun Festival," a great 2-day even which happens every October in the self-proclaimed "Music Capital of The World". This years line up included Rival Schools (who I was working for), All, Kool Keith, Black Heart Procession, Integrity, DOA, The Dead Milkmen, Kevin Seconds, the unbelievably GREAT festival stealing "Cro Mags Jam", and of course the legendary Punk / Rastafarians, the Bad Brains. The greatest band whoever lived, allegedly.

When I first saw the Bad Brains back in 1985 they destroyed. This was even, according to some, 3 – 4 years after their prime, too. The singer bounced around the stage like a wild rabid animal. The band blistered through blistering songs, stopping on a dime, only to whip into another typhoon of a song. There were back flips, and prophetic statements. It was more then just hardcore. It was music. It was religious. It was illuminating. I was converted. Three years later I would even ditch my senior prom to see the band play again. Anytime they've played I have tried to catch them.

As the years have passed though, the band has become more and more sketchy, mostly due to their prophetic leader Human Rights, or H.R.. He's become so unpredictable that there have been shows where he hasn't even bothered to sing, AT ALL. They played the House of Blues in Los Angeles, CA recently, and it was, well, in a word… "interesting". Therefore I'm prepared for whatever comes my way tonight. It's the main reason why a lot of us are here. I rationalize with some of the doubters that if we had the chance to watch Miles Davis play, no matter what, even during his coked out 80s freak out era, wouldn't we have gone just to say we saw him? The same goes for Bad Brains. Well, at least for me, and the guys I'm with it is the same. That's why we're here in Austin on a Sunday night, plus no matter what happens, I'm pretty sure it will be, well, "interesting"

Before the Bad Brains even take the stage, H.R. emerges and stands before the crowd, like a black Moses. He's yelling unintelligible stuff out at the audience. People are going crazy, completely nuts! "Oh how they have no idea what's in store" I think to myself. "This could be ugly". If my prediction is correct it will be no fault of the bands; Dr.Know, Earl, Hudson and Darryl Jennifer bring it every night. They have for 30 fucking years, too. They are true greats. Living legends. They are our scenes Coltrane and Miles. Cosmic musicians who should be in the annals of music history for the rest of time.

Nope, the problem lies squarely inside H.R. who today is some sort of riddle that nobody, not even H.R, himself seems to be able to solve. Rumors have swirled for years that H.R. suffers from schizophrenia. If that is true then whoever is in charge these days is really off the grid. I know all this, as do most of my crew in the audience. Most of these Texas punkers however have NO IDEA.


The Blue Ghost and Joe Nelson

H.R. leaves the stage, and soon the band emerges. The swell of anticipation rises, as the band checks levels, adjusts their monitors and what not. After about 5 minutes of waiting H.R. returns in all his glory. My man of course is now dressed up like some sort of blue ghost. He has wrapped himself up in a blue sheet, or shroud, or blanket, or something blue. Surprise Mother Fuckers!

"Welcome ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming tonight, for Human Rights and The Good Brains. We are going to play some songs for you tonight…some classics, some new songs…yesssssss…mmmmmmm," he says

And with that the band launches into its set of hits… "Attitude", "Right Brigade", "F.V.K.", "Banned in D.C.", and on and on and on. The band is so tight. Darryl's bass is right in the pocket, moving around the rhythm seamlessly. Earl has slowed down some, but for a dude in his 50s he still gets after it more ferociously then most any drummer ½ his age. Doc is bringing it, he always does, keeping the crunch at times, while blazing wildly on others. It's brutal. Then there's my man. The Blue Ghost is doing his lazy singing, ventriloquist act, sometimes singing the words, and sometimes just saying whatever comes to mind. It's fascinating to watch.

In between songs H.R. says bizarro things such as "This one is for the teachers. It's fall now, school is in session…but soon it's sprrinnnnnngggg time..."or something like that. It's completely MAD. The punk rock cowboys in front of me are getting restless. "What the fuck is this shit?" I hear somebody say…"This SUCKS" cries another. Yes, the fans are pissed. This is the band that The Beastie Boys, The Chili Peppers, Fugazi, and pretty much every other musician from the 80s sites as THE BAND OF ALL BANDS!?!?!?!? For the love of GOD say it ain't so.

Then it dawns on me. Perhaps H.R. is doing some sort of Andy Kaufman act, which is actually a total commitment to the complete destruction of the Bad Brains. Perhaps he's lucent, and "this" is his new art. Destroy Babylon. Destroy what every one else has put up on such a high pedestal. It would after all be the Rasta way to give all praise to "Jah," so maybe in my man's mind, the only way he can truly give ALL praise to Jah is to suck out any remaining love for the Bad Brains in the process. OR he could just be as mad as a hatter. Either way no matter how people are feeling about what their eyes and ears signal to them, they can't turn away. H.R. still is in command.

One of my favorite moments comes when H.R. unwraps himself from his blue tapestry, and for a song or two walks around without it. He sings an amazing version of "I and I" totally committed to the song, and his voice as clear as ever. It only fuels my conspiracy theory of what H.R. is really all about in 2008…FUCKING WITH US! After a few songs though he decides to wrap himself back up. My friend says to me "Well there he goes…back inside for the night." For the rest of set he wanders around, mumbling crazy shit, and singing songs like if he were just letting water run out of his mouth and down his chin.


Bad Brains set list from Fun Fest

Towards the end of the set The Blue Ghost invites everyone to come see them play at the Hollywood, Palladium…in LOS ANGELES. They do "Pay To Cum", and then encore with "I Against I." Mercifully it is now over. Somebody yells into the mic "Let's hear it for the Bad Brains!" Nobody really cheers, but H.R. is unfazed by that or pretty much anything that's happening, and he takes the mic back and says "no no brother…Human Rights and the Good Brains," and that ends the show.

WOW.

We all retire to some nearby bar called the Mohawk to discuss what we have just witnessed. Opinions are split, Some of us think that H.R. is just fucking with us, and that being the great showman, the artistic genius that he is, the new act is to be so wild and unpredictable that people will keep on coming back. It's the "car crash syndrome theory", and it carries weight. Some of us believe that the beloved Brains are now reduced to playing out this sad divine comedy. We talk about how the band should seriously think about not playing with H.R anymore, even though that has never worked for them in the past. Is it right to bring a mentally sick individual on stage every night? Is he even sick?

That's the real paradox of the Brains though, isn't it? In the beginning H.R. was the end all be all spiritual leader of not only the band, but also the whole scene. The great presence. The greatest front man in the history of such things. The true rock and roll messiah. At their peak they were unstoppable, and H.R. was their unflappable leader. Through the years though H.R. as moved in and out of sanity. Either contrived or genuine, he's become an uninsurable liability. Several times the other 3 have carried on without him, who can blame them? However they always come to find that no matter what, the public wants H.R. Without him they are just not the Bad Brains. Great musicians, worthy of our attention whenever they grace us with any endeavor, yes, but as the Bad Brains, no. It's been their magical curse since the bands inception, I think. H.R. lead them to greatness years ago but the trade off is now they are forced to live out the rest of their living legacy with H.R. In a way it's like Robert Johnson's "deal with the devil" at the crossroads. Darryl, Doc, and Earl's deal is not with the Devil, but instead with The Blue Ghost. It is what it is.

On our way back to the hotel, we are STILL talking about what we saw. Trying to figure out how the fuck band meetings work. What is the process? How do Darryl and Doc feel about H.R.? Does H.R. have a handler? He must right? How does he even get to the show on time? What's flying with him like? He must get pulled for "random" security checks every single time, right? We're pretty loud as we enter the hotel parking lot. As we do I look up, and there on the 4th floor balcony staring down on us are the Bad Brains passing a spliff between each other… "Oh SHIT" I whisper. "Did they hear us?" We all fall silent, and then somebody in our crew says "Yeah Bad Brains!" and like a bunch of complete weirdos we all break out into applause. The Brains just stare down at us smoking their weed, being legends.

Come morning we enter the hotel lobby to check out. H.R. is still on my mind. As I stand in line I feel a great presence. Somebody is staring at us. I turn and look over my shoulder, and their sitting on the lobby sofa is The Blue Ghost, H.R. himself. He's staring right at us. "FUCK"!!! We mumble to ourselves about it for a few. "Is he still looking at us? You look…No, fuck that, you look." A minute goes by and I turn… "YEP, he's still staring at us." Eyes locked in. "SHIT!" Then he rises and walks towards us…"Oh great" I think… "what's he going to say to us? We are in such trouble." As he approaches we are all forced to meet his gaze head on. All I can manage to say is "Hey." He just smiles back at me, all knowing, all controlling, and then he says to all of us, but nobody in particular, "Well…thanks for coming brothas…hope you enjoyed the show?" And with that he exits the hotel, into a waiting shuttle van outside, and just like Keyser Söze, "poof", he's gone! As for the "show"? Well, it still will go on, but only The Blue Ghost really knows how it will end.


Bad Brains "Pay To Cum" @ Fun Fun Fun Festival, Austin, TX, November 9th, 2008

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

tim and gordo, double cross is easily the best thing to ever exist on a computer and what you guys do on your own is fuckin awesome. but i gotta say that nelson's material is easily on par with the best stuff you guys have had on here. joe: please continue to write. like i said, double cross is top notch as it is, but man nelson's stories and memories are like the icing on the cake. keep it coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ps- i love the bad brains, and the good brains, and double cross. long live all.

Ben Edge said...

ALL got back together? Tight!

Anonymous said...

Yo, I actually was one of the dudes working security for this event (if you watch the remember, I was wearing a Side By Side shirt) and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the set.

Considering the fact that I was sitting/squatting right in front of Dr. Know, the band sounded so tight/crisp...it was fantastic. I also can't say that I've seen them before (I'm only 20), so I don't really have a standard to judge them by but the mere YouTube vids.

Anyways, as I sat around back stage, I had a similar "blue ghost" moment. You see, I lost my wrist band moshing to the Cro-Mags and found solace in the little back area. I sat there talking to my friends about the impending set that we were about to see. Would it be good? Would it be GREAT? We discussed their gear and everything. Anyways, I started to wonder "Where is HR?"...I voiced my question to my friends and immediately my friend said, in an almost whisper, "...right behind you."

Sure enough, I turn around and the creepy figure is standing and then sits right next to me. Bizarre. I sat there for the next 5-10 minutes and watched this man from the back. He didn't move an inch the entire time.

So yea, great story and I can totally understand the creepiness that came along with this man's demeanor. Great read.

-S

cy said...

I had two encounters with H.R. once his solo band was playing a show at this shitty club and me and my buddy walked back into the load area and there he was sitting alone on a couch. baked out. we froze because of his statue like resemblance and intense stare. all he said was "ahh hello children" and smiled. Another time he was in a weird mood and came out and sat down next to LetXDown stoned out of his mind. Hilarity and rediculous questions ensued which he answered all in half answers. He always keeps his piece of luggage on stage and when my friend who is an obsessed fan bumped into it H.R. gave him the death stare. I also knew a hippy kid that used to be into punk named Cain. He made friends with H.R. and some reggae show. When he went to see him play H.R. told him he wasn't allowed to be at the show because his name was Cain. The venue owner just laughed at him. Dude definitely isn't pulling a fast one.

Anonymous said...

Cool review! As far as Hunting Rods (stage) acting goes: There´s a lot of similiarities with Lee Scratch Perrys behaviour - especially live on stage - when he tried to get rid off the hanger ons in 1978 (check his biography "People funny boy"). I think the "Rise" line up would be much better than this. IMO the best Bad Brains "live" is nowadays John Joseph with one of his bands playing their songs. I´d like to see Darryl & Doc play as part of the Cro-Mag Jam.

xjoex said...

If you ever needed an example of why not to do drugs HR is it.

Joshferatu said...

This is one of my favorite entries posted on this blog. From the original article through even some of the comments. I could read pages and pages of Bad Brains/HR stories. Keep up the solid work here, favorite blog on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Joe, you are an awesome writer, TIME FOR A BOOK!

Mike Inhuman

SLYTLE said...

Nice one Nels

BHS said...

"Some of us think that H.R. is just fucking with us, and that being the great showman, the artistic genius that he is, the new act is to be so wild and unpredictable that people will keep on coming back."

This sounds like something Walter would say hahaha.

Great review and story. I have an old letter from HR he sent my sister, who was living in DC with a girl he was dating back in '85 DC, when he was in jail. The first paragraph is a rasta salutation and then he says "I hope very much we can go horse back riding some day as we once spoke of." Funny shit. He's a kook. One of the greats, but a complete maniac.

Jake said...

You make more money than me, you've banged more (and better looking) women than me AND you're a better writer than me. I hate you, Nelson.

Joe said...

Jesus Christ Jake.... thats where you decided to take it huh?

TJK said...

Man, I guess it was 7 years ago now at Irving Plaza when they played...June of 2001, about the same time John and Harley had just gotten back together. Anyway, the Bad Brains (going by the Soul Brains I think) were a similar experience. HR with a huge cape that looked really heavy and a big crown. The place went nuts for a few songs; the enthusiasm tapered off until the long stretch of reggae killed it dead.
However, someone correct me, as my mind is hazy, but I kinda remember HR really getting into like 1 or 2 songs...most lyrics were just talked or sing-songed, but for some reason I remember "I" being real intense.
Again, I could be way off...for all I know they didn't even play the song.

Anonymous said...

Sloth Crew is washed up, and Nelson is the worst name-dropping-scene whore-wannabe-creep ever!!! But Triggerman was great dude, you got pipes... too bad they are all black and in you ass. Just kidding, you're alright I guess, but the last thing you need is MORE credit. Yea man, you're buddies with GB and Walter, and you smoke out with Dubar... Rad. I'm anonymous YAAAAYYYYY!!!!

William Patrick Wend said...

Miles Davis play, no matter what, even during his coked out 80s freak out era,

I just started checking out Miles' post comeback records. They are pretty heavy and a little different to take in. Everything he did is absolutely essential though.

C. Hulford said...

Who is this Joe Nelson guy? Sounds like he's experiencing some sort of an identity crisis...or he's just a guy nearing age forty and still holding onto his glory days. My guess is that he still lives at home, works part-time, and takes pictures of himself posing with hardcore celebrities and posting them on his myspace page. I'm embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

Please, no more Joe Nelson. This is a great webzine with thoughtful contributors, but when Joe writes an article I just want to puke. He is not insightful, his bands all suck (specifically because of him), and his greatest contribution to hardcore is that he sucked ass enough to get to carry Walter's guitar equipment.

There was no special insight in his article, with the only thing standing in for an original reading of HR today being an overly simplified debate on whether he is crazy or not. How observant, Joe, but I could have written that without being there. Don't just write about something because you were there and becaue you have a venue. Try actually having something to say rather than you were there with your 'cool guy crew' and stayed in the same hotel with HR. To just talk about HR's sanity like it is simply an object for your vacuous curiosity actually does a disservice to HR, an artist who not only contributed to hardcore (unlike the sycophantic, has-been/never was that Joe is) but essentially built the genre we love to still talk about.

Please, if anyone is going to take the trouble to wrap his or her head around the enigma of HR, please let it be from someone who has a head for the task, not just a hardcore voice that sounds like a kindergarden kid being murdered with a broken violin.

DOUBLE CROSS said...

In response to some of the Joe Nelson critics...

Tim and I are friends with Joe and have given him an open door to contribute to DCXX. Not only do we love his writing, but many seem to as well. Specifically, aside from his mentioning of being there with Rival Schools, there didn't seem to be any name dropping.

That said, everyone has their opinion, and it is at this point we would again welcome ALL contributions from anyone who feels they have anything good to share. We didn't post this just because Joe wrote this, we posted it because we thought it was good.

So, please - fire away if you have anything you think deserves a DCXX post. Thanks for reading.

-Gordo DCXX

Joe said...

HA! I love the anonymous dudes. bashing on me.. Too funny...Actually some pretty good burns too.

As for C. Hulford also burning my over the Myspace page....Ya know...I never really looked at it that way.. Hmmmm...you kinda of have a point maybe,

SFader said...

There is a funny story about HR and Sublime from people I know in Long Beach. They did a show with HR as guest vocals and after that one event he just automatically thought he was in the band and started showing up uninvited to practices and shows and stuff and they couldn't figure out how to make him stop. Also funny sightings of him wandering around homeless and talking to himself just around town, not even in a show type setting.

SFader said...

Oh yeah, WTF is with the anonymous vaginas? Pull your nuts out of your wives purses and admit who you are! This is hardcore who gives a fuck. What's Joe gonna do punch you through your computer?

C. Hulford said...

Maybe I shouldn't have spoken or just kept my mouth shut. All of that effort really didn't help much. Joe Nelson has always been screaming for better conditions. He's always been praying for better ways. He never said that he was perfect and I think that he was only looking for some praise.

As far as Joe Nelson goes, it's always been gossip, rumors, and just plain lies but we were always on the same side. He always knew what he was shooting for, he always know what he felt. Joe Nelson didn't have to prove that to anybody because he had already proved it to himself.

No matter where he is in this world, he'll know exactly where he stands. He knows we're all on the same side and at least he knows that he fuckin' tried.

Anonymous said...

The Killing Flame records, lyrically and musically, are far above anything the kids are doing now and what most did in the past. Essential pieces of Southern California hardcore. So as far I am concerned, Nelson can live at home, work part-time at sub-mart, and sneek peeks at blossoming tweens at the mall.... or whatever the criticisms were. The music can't be denied. Thanks so much for contributing Joe.

SLYTLE said...

I think were all forgetting that Nelson is Blind in one eye. Surely we can't let him get away with that shit.

Turd Ferguson said...

anonymous haters = disgruntled former Nelson dick riders

President-Elect Barack Obama said...

Mr. Nelson,

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely Yours,

President-Elect Barack Obama

Isaac Golub said...

I never got to know Nelson that well but he always seemed like a sarcastic prick, and that is ALWAYS rad. I get you man, you're an alright dude. You were great on The Runs... good good comedy.

Great Nelson story.... (i think this was you). I go to Tower Records in Tustin a loooong ass time ago and I rent a porno or some shit and the ex-wife rents some tattoo/piercing doc and we are watching it and some dude does a slow turn to reveal his full back piece and it's some drawing in marks-a-lot of a dog wearing a suit holding a briefcase... Dude I shit myself, I dont think I EVER laughed so hard... Someone later told me Nelson had an old video editor and would rent movies, edit in his own stupid shit and return them... CLASSIC!!! Was that you because it was the greatest thing ever.

randy j said...

What's with all of these anonymous haters coming after Joe. It's as if he had sex with their wives or something....oh wait...

But seriously, dude has one eye and he falls and hurts himself a lot, so cut him some slack.

Sarah Palin said...

Why haven't you called?

Anonymous said...

Good read. I don't understand why that other guy wrote such a long winded critique about it. Keep up the good work Double Cross, and please try and incorporate more current hardcore bands into your webzine.

P.S. is Joe Nelson really blind n one eye?

Joe Nelson's eye said...

I was blinded by our lord JAH!
Rastafariiiiiiiii,Haile Selassie! I......

Anonymous said...

Haha.

Anonymous said...

You fucked Sarah Palin?!?!