Damage fanzine, 1980
© 1980 Damage
/ Shoshana Wecheler
The Emperor's New Clothes
by Shoshana Wecheler
Sowing the seeds of discontent
Running away from the albatross
Kill the spirit of sixty eight...
It is 4:00 am, dear readers, and we are steering woozily through the slumbering green suburbs of Marin heading back to San Francisco with what's left of the Public Image entourage - and of yours truly, for that matter. I had made a heroic attempt to keep pace with the malted beverage consumption of these mad Britons, and nearly succeeded. Even Johnny the Rotten, who began the return trip by squabbling with me over our seating order, was well gone and sweetly sedated, and was now nodding into my shoulder in the back seat.
We must have made a wrong
turn somewhere, maybe several. In fact, we seem to be going In ever
accelerating loops. "I think we're going in the wrong direction'',
I suggest to the navigating Tour manageress. She pointedly ignores me
and bears down on the gas pedal. Four miles farther down the road she
concedes the landscape is looking totally foreign and lets loose with
a stream of "Bloody Hell's", mostly aimed at the only
passenger who's a native of this godforsaken Californian limbo. Elm
trees for miles and a Peugeot in every driveway. "Mea non culpa".
I mutter to myself and attempt to press my eyes into the back of my
head the Cadillac, resplendent as one of Diana Doors white mink stoles
under the road lamps, noses into the opposite direction and churns full
steam ahead to San Francisco.
Wobble is enjoying himself immensely. "Is this anything like your neighbourhood?" he leers. It's a rhetorical question. Earlier, I'd been giving him the slow and lowdown on the Saturday night splendour of the Mission District: Hundreds of chopped and lowered mauve and vermilion and chartreuse iridescent high-sheen sedans circling in a slow pase in the same eight block radius, all blaring the latest 12 inch sensation from their synchronised radios - BOUNCE ROCK SKATE ROLL! A lone romantic cruising dark alleyways with the Flamingos, "I've only got eyes for you", echoing in his wake, the last violin notes falling into a spring night like a perfumed calling card. Wobble's keen on seeing that you betcha.
"What's it like to be an American?" he asks with sudden seriousness. "DIFFICULT! You have no idea how DIFFICULT" I sputter, picking up with drunken intensity. "lt's just as alien to us as it is to you... (Fill in your own blanks)... like a stone around the neck... crushing... inhuman weight... The whole Babylonian lament".
Wobble lets out with an exultant yelp. ''Bravo! That's the most optimistic thing I've ever heard. That's fucking encouraging!" The neon lights of the metropolis appear on the horizon. We end up at Clown Alley on Lombard. John orders his meat rare with raw onions ("l said RAW onions, GOT IT?"). Wobble orders two hamburgers that arrive at the same time and which he devours with manic concentration. I occupy myself with interesting things at the bottom of my coffee cup.
It is nearly 6:00 am as we near into the home stretch. I suggest meeting at a later time ("later? how can it get any later?") for a proper interview and John suggests to both my horror and delight that we do it right now. Wobble, however, asks for a rain check and zombies directly into the hotel elevator and straight up to his room. For this uncharacteristic lag of energy, I can only blame the graveyard cuisine at Clown Alley.
Lord have mercy. I can barely see straight, the dawn light is flooding into Lydon's hotel room while the first pigeons start their morning fluttering and cooing. Denise Hall stares catatonically through the windows while I stare catatonically at the wall, and John places bottles of beer in our hands, urges that I make myself comfortable, and curls up on the bed with the telephone. He has a lengthy affectionate conversation with his brother about music, the latest football matches, the tour and the weather; by the time he rings off, he looks positively stricken with homesickness.
"Remember those football rows on Essex Road?" he reminisces with Denise, and he waxes nostalgic about the good old days. All of his mates brawling together in the streets and ah, previous youth and high hopes dashed to bits. This is not the way it was supposed to be. It could have been so much more. I am overtaken with the strangest sense of deja vu or is it that he reminds me of an old maudlin Wobblie I met in the bars of Seattle lifting his glass to fallen comrades and the construction of the ruins?
he says. "I haven't forgotten you. Ask away". "What
about Martin Atkins?" I begin. "Back at the station
he was saying that maybe you'd lose ten percent to a manager but that
you're all losing much more this way."
He shares a knowing smile with Denise. "Good old Martin. He doesn't understand what we're trying lo do. Look, we don't care about being successful we just want to do it on our own terms. The only people in this world who are really worth anything are always the poor ones, aren't they? And that's the sorry truth. I'll tell you one thing. I came from nothing and I have no doubt that this isn't going to last forever. I know I'm going to lose. You can't win in this game. I'll probably go back to where I came from - which is nothing. So there's nothing lo lose, is there?"
There is an old Katherine Hepburn movie on the box with Hepburn as the frontier outcast dressed in plain calico, a Kentucky Joan of Arc living alone in a poor pinewood shack, administering to the sick and dying while the suspicious small town wags accuse her of sexual indecency and opportunism. John is completely engrossed. The only critical remarks he makes are about the cutting. By the next commercial break, he is fast asleep.
Afternoon finds him napping during the soundcheck, while the Public Image rhythm section shanks through a memorable jam. They could have charged admission. But that evening Lydon is awake and going full barrel's to an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 people he delivers a knockout performance that maintains its high intensity from the impassioned opening assault of 'Careering' through ten lengthy songs. The characteristic "neaagh" at the end of his lines conjures up an operatic coyote. Between attacks, he saunters casually around the stage, engages the audience in pointed dialogue and offers his mike to the front row of ecstatic, worshipping fans. ("Who here wants to be a pop star".) Somebody tosses him a plastic grenade which he grinningly pockets. He's almost too mesmerising. As much as he disavows the role of pop star he clearly feeds off it.
The trouble is (aside from the suffocating heat and over crowding), the more vivid Mr. Lydon, the more his brilliant band recedes into the visual background like a trio of reliable functionaries. Levene produces sounds like erratic satellite transmissions or a barrage of plumbing space junk. His eerie ascending and disappearing chromatic walls of synthesiser lead the band into 'Memories', which perfectly showcases Levene's demented classicism: He laces it with repeating guitar fragments of 'Malaguena'. Meanwhile, Martin Atkins is beating out a series of exploding land mines, and Wobble's anxious loping bass lines are so deep and wide you could fall in and be swallowed up forever. That low, rumbling bass is like the coming of the final earthquake.
In short, the band's everything it's cracked up to be. It's a pity that only a small international audience has had the privilege of attending any of their few live concerts. And it's a sure bet that their US experience hasn't made their collective attitude about touring any more positive. That they ended up in San Francisco, playing the South of Market Cultural Centre, is nothing loss than a miraculous fluke.
Warner Bros. was never quite sure what to do with them. The record company had seen fit to press only 50,000 units of 'Second Edition' for American distribution. They were surprised when PiL's New York concert sold out 4,000 tickets in the first week of sales. Warners considered them a club act, albeit a prestige one. Their counsel to the band was to do a saturation tour of small US halls, and they devised an itinerary of forty dates, which PiL flatly refused. The band insisted on the right to book its own dates, play just two or three markets, and deal only with the promoters they themselves chose to deal with directly.
A large Warner Bros. investment went down the tubes when the Sex Pistols disbanded, and the company was eager to recoup its losses with PiL. However, the band's commercial potential was still untested, and the record industry has recently fallen on hard times. Vinyl sales are way down while touring costs are soaring, and company-subsidised tours are dropping accordingly. Once, it was standard to sock anywhere from thirty to forty thousand dollars into a tour. Now strategy is more cautious. The bands who are hit hardest by this are those marginal acts that are too big to play clubs and too small for arenas. If a band has no recent product on the market and cannot be counted on to sell out a 3,000 seater, it doesn't go out on the road at all.
While PiL and Warners squared off over the question of dates, the company took the situation into its own hands by appointing Premier Talent as the band's tour agent. Premier, which one industry veteran described as, "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York", is the largest and most powerful rock agency in the US. (Record companies and agencies are traditionally very tight because record companies subsidise the tours. Agencies act as the middleman between the companies and the promoters.) Never mind that PiL had refused any agency representation. Warners decided this was sheer folly and instructed Premier Talent to go ahead and book forty dates. One insider speculates that Warner knew they wouldn't be able to convince the band to go along with them, so they "just didn't bother to tell them certain things".
Premier had a contractual agreement with Malcolm McLaren during the Sex Pistols' heyday. They didn't seem to realise that Public Image Ltd. was not the Sex Pistols in new drag - or that the old Sex Pistols contracts had been declared legally null and void in a British court of law in January. Warners, on its part, was recommending that PiL sign an exclusive three-year contract with Premier if they wanted to go on tour at all. When Lydon and Levene balked at this suggestion, Warners made appropriate noises about problems with immigration and tried to intimidate them into backing down. Instead, they held their ground.
A ten-date compromise was reached. But PiL was still dead set on making its own arrangements with small promoters, if any could be found. On March 15, Billboard ran an item in which Public Image Ltd. brazenly announced a ten city US tour and its intent to play dance halls and "unusual venues", including the Olympic Auditorium in LA.
The Olympic Auditorium? Since 1942, it has been the home of boxing, wrestling and roller derby. The only musical events staged there were three punk shows in the fall of '79 featuring unsigned local LA bands, and promoted by a small outfit called C D Presents. If Warners executives received a nasty shock over their morning coffee and Billboard, the news also came as a surprise to C D.
As C D's Dave Ferguson tells it, "They were giving interviews... that they were going to play the Olympic before we ever met them face to face or talked to them on the telephone". Joy Johnson, who was C D's booker at the time, has weathered several years as an independent concert promoter and band manager. She also spent fourteen months sitting twenty-five feet away from Bill Graham while she worked as a booker in his office. Her first Involvement with the business end of music stems back to Country Joe and the Fish, and her sympathies still lie with the anarchistic mavericks of the music world.
"The machine is the very thing the punk movement is in rebellion against. It says, Fuck this commercial corporate trip, fuck these semi-mafioso types of relationships. Let's go out and do it on our own terms. That's exactly the stance we took. We decided to go to acts directly in England and say, 'Sidestep this whole machine, come to LA, come to the heart of the beast: basically, play to the real scene and the real community.' We went directly to PiL and put in a standing offer to come to LA whenever they wanted and play the Olympic Auditorium".
About a month after putting in the offer, Johnson heard through a friend at Virgin Records that the band was interested. A two-concert West Coast deal was signed with a handshake in the back of the limo that carried Lydon and Levene to the airport after their San Francisco press conference.
"The word 'definite' was used, and it never wavered," says Ferguson. "They risked their whole career. They showed great integrity throughout. It was pretty simple because their main concern was making sure that security weren't beating people over the head and that the hall was a place where, if only a few thousand people showed up, it wouldn't be embarrassing to them and also fun for the audience". Stewart adds that at this point, PiL wasn't really sure of their draw because Warner Bros. "Had been giving them all these downers that they should play clubs like the Whiskey... they also wanted to bring the ticket prices down, so we did and they cut some of the things out of their budget.''
It wasn't so simple, as it turned out. Firming up an LA date meant getting one okay from the band and successive conflicts with Warners, which had its own idea about scheduling. After C D had turned in an ad to the LA Times for the Olympic Auditorium gig they set for April 17, they received a warning call from Bob Regere, who is a vice president to Artist Development at Warners. "You have until 5:00 today to pull the ad", he told them. "Your date is May 6". Johnson replied that she had already confirmed the April 27 date with the band. "You shouldn't be talking with Keith and Johnny", Johnson recalls him saying. "You should be dealing with Premier."
Warner Bros. had already placed an ad in the April issue of Slash magazine for a Graham-promoted PiL show at San Francisco's Fox Warfield theatre on May 2. In the meantime, Joy Johnson was attempting to reserve the Oakland Auditorium for May 1 for C D. She gave the Auditorium's supervisor, Bud Alexander, a check for $600 to hold that date. Alexander explained that the Oakland Auditorium, which Is a city-owned facility, has a master rental agreement with Bill Graham Presents, as it does with several other promoters.
The agreement includes a ten-day protection on either side of an event date, in order to protect the promoter from any potential conflict of interest with another event of the same type or talent which might attract essentially the same public market. Conversely, the agreement also commits Bill Graham Presents to book twenty events a year on mutually agreeable dates with the Auditorium. In the event of a show cancellation, Graham (and other promoters with a master rental agreement) forfeits a flat penalty of $1200.
Bud Alexander explained that the Graham organisation had booked a tentative date for May 10 for Rick James, and that he would have to determine whether there was any conflict between the two bands. He called Danny Sheer, a booking agent for Bill Graham Presents, to discuss the situation, only to be informed that Graham, working in co-operation with Premier Talent, was presenting Public Image in San Francisco. Clearly Alexander would need proof from C D that they actually had a valid agreement with Public Image. He asked to see a signed talent contract between C D and PiL.
Suddenly Johnson found herself caught in the midst of everything she most hated about industry dealings. She bounced back and forth between Warner Bros., Premier Talent and her former associates at Bill Graham Presents while the respective parties alternately issued belligerent threats and personal pleas for C D to step aside. What had happened to her human one-to one agreement with the band? She made an emergency call to Keith Levene and urged him to immediately telegram Bud Alexander to straighten things out. An exchange of telexes is standard in the industry and is considered good faith as confirmation of talent agreements. Keith promised to send off a telex within twenty-four hours, but it didn't arrive.
I was In the middle of everything I abhorred, Joy recalls. "All I'd done was fight with people lately. I simply wanted to remove myself from the middle". The next day she resigned because of a "personal conflict of interests from C D" and packed up to the country. "The fact that Keith didn't send the telegram was critical", she says. "If we had had it, we would have gotten the Oakland Auditorium". Bud Alexander and Danny Sheer confirm her opinion.
Minus one booker and with the band now somewhere in transit between London and New York, Steward and Ferguson still fought to maintain the Oakland Auditorium date. The Rick James show had been cancelled, and Bill Graham Presents maintained a tentative hold on May 10 for a new concert with Greg Kihn, The Rubinoos and Earthquake, a show which never materialised. Neither did the aligned contract between C D and PiL. On April 3, the Oakland Auditorium officially turned down C D's request on the grounds that, "a definite conflict would occur... within this ten day period", and returned their deposit to them. What was really at stake was the missing telex. Although there was no formal mention of such a requirement in the Oakland Auditorium's rental agreements. Bud Alexander explains that he's always based his decisions on his prior experience with promoters. Formal proof of talent representation has rarely been necessary.
David Ferguson fumes, "Since he wanted a talent contract, obviously he needed the same thing from Bill Graham". The difference between the promoters, however, is that Graham has a standing twenty-show-per-year commitment with the Auditorium and any show cancellation cost him twice as much as the rental fee. Ferguson sees it in a different light: "The point Is that Bill Graham has an exclusions clause with a city facility. That's never been tested before in court. If this country's devotion to capitalism means anything, it means free trade". As this magazine goes to press, C D is considering a law suit against Bill Graham Presents.
There are other legal matters in the works. Witness Case Number C3210S3, entitled Security National Band vs Public Image, Ltd., a corporation, Public Image, a partnership, and John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle and Richard Nother, an action filed recently in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Here, finally, is the updated version of the 'Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' straight from the bank's mouth:
"This is an action to recover $15,788.92 paid by mistake to Public Image, Ltd. by the bank in October 1979 during the course of a wire transfer of funds for another customer. Public Image, Ltd. has no right to those funds but refused to return them to the bank after a request by the bank to do so. The bank then filed this action. Service of process was recently made on the defendants in the Bay Area. As yet, no formal answer has been filed on behalf of the defendants in this action."
As for the tempest this little service of process stirred up in San Francisco, the repercussions are still being felt. Evidently, the Finance Committee of the South of Market Cultural Centre had not gone through the proper procedures whom it rented the facility to C D for the Public Image show. C D paid $3000 cash upfront, for the SOMCC rental. As the City Attorney explained to the promoters on that fateful Friday, any rental under $499 doesn't have to go through the Municipal Property Department. Three grand puts the ball in all together different court. The day of the gig, PiL received their guarantee of $3,000 from C D. The day after, an escort of uniformed cops opened the safe at the Cultural Centre and recovered $3,000 in cash for the City of San Francisco. Bernice Bing, the director of the Centre is now being hard pressed to explain why she accepted illegal monies from CD.
As the song goes, "Public Image, you got what you wanted..." In answer to Martin Atkins' question, all reports show the orange crop is positively thriving this year. But the full harvest isn't in yet. Atkins announced his resignation from PiL shortly after the band's return to the UK.
Street Art:The punk poster SF 1977-1982
© Street Art:The punk poster SF 1977-1982 / Shoshana Wechsler
Note: This short excerpt from the book Street Art:The punk poster SF 1977-1982 also features further info by Shoshana Wechsler…PiL
Peerless journalist Shoshana
Wechsler gave an illuminating behind-scenes account of how Public Image
Ltd. and its adversaries conducted themselves during their brief encounter
in May 1980:
John Lydon and Keith Levene came to town one afternoon for a press conference, really more like a pair of stags being harried by a pack of yapping dogs. Above the din Lydon reiterated only two essential points, "Public Image defies any category and will continue to do so" and "If you want our stuff, you're going to have to fight for it."
'"I still carry an image of his face from that afternoon's game of Meet the Press, a face so purely white that it seemed to burn from a hidden fanatic source within, and dark unblinking rat eyes that looked out on the world with dilated intensity." Nevertheless, PiL afterwards agreed to play Frisco, and arranged to do so under the slogan NO MANAGER NO TOURING FOR NO REASON. This time, Lydon was determined to be self-managed at any cost (self-management is all the rage among rebel workers in Europe). But an outfit called Premier Talent, according to Wechsler, the oldest permanent floating crap game in New York, was forced on PiL by Warner Brothers, and proceeded to book them for forty US dates. The band refused. Instead PiL sought out small local promoters and unusual venues, on its own. In SF they connected with C D Presents, which, based on a verbal understanding with Levene, went out and booked PiL into a series of halls (see posters above), only to be squeezed out of each by predatory big time promoters who wanted to snatch the show for themselves. In the end that didn't happen, but the concert which was finally produced overcrowded, cynical, lifeless on both sides of the stage lights was a rather pyrrhic victory.
SW: "I spent the day postering for Saturday's concert in order to earn a ticket for the show, as did the rest of the city's punk elite. Never say the life of a new wave journalist isn't glamorous".
LYDON: ''I know I'm going to lose. You can't win in this game. I'll probably go back to where I came from, which is nothing. So there's nothing to lose, is there?
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Live at San Francisco, South of Market Cultural Center, USA 10.5.8 © unknown
LA, Olympic Auditorium,USA 4.5.80
Berkeley, Greek Theater, USA 10.5.80 Flyer / Poster
San Francisco, South of Market Cultural Center, USA 10.5.80Flyer / Poster