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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Sometimes you just have to say "What the fuck?!!?" as a "Why not?" at the same time as asking it as a statement of "Seriously, exactly what in the holy fuck is this?" and that sentiment more or less sums up my take on Los Angeles' legendary punk band 45 Grave. Hailed as one of the progenitors of horror rock, death rock and in many ways a major influence on the whole Goth thing, the original 45 Grave was largely active during the early-to-mid-1980's but have since been revived (re-animated?) every now and then by lead singer "Dinah Cancer" (nee Mary Sims), formerly of the all-women Castration Squad.

The lovely Dinah Cancer: Debbie Harry she ain't.

The band came off as what might have happened if Eddie Munster got his hands on some heroin laced with some Stud City animal stimulants and formed a basement punk band while the two colliding drugs waged a war for dominance over his system, thus creating a sound somewhere between art-punk and a neighborhood spookshow cacophony. Their playing was quite good and far more experimental than one would expect, but the make or break aspect of their music as far as most listeners were concerned would be the vocals. Dinah Cancer was by no means blessed with a set of dulcet pipes; her approach had virtually nothing to do with actual singing and instead concentrated on delivering a nasal whine/screech punctuated with shrill screams that sounded like she was caught up in a physical assault. But the funny this is that it worked (to a degree) in much the way that without Johnny Rotten's scabrous "singing" the recordings of the Sex Pistols simply would not have flown, so Cancer sort of becomes an errant banshee giving her all in the name of rock.

45 Grave can be heard to greatest effect on the posthumously-released collection of singles and alternate versions, AUTOPSY (1987, Enigma), but good luck getting your hands on that one; the vinyl is pricey enough when encountered in the wild, but the blink-and-you-missed-it CD is rarer than tits on a scorpion and I've seen it selling online for almost as much as three-hundred bucks. (Let me be perfectly clear on this: AUTOPSY is good, but not that good.) Among the other treasures found on that postmortem is the eerie "Black Cross," the band's first 7" single and a tour de force on all musical fronts. I first heard the song performed on a NIGHT FLIGHT rerun of L.A.'s NEW WAVE THEATRE in 1986 (I think; I'm not too clear on the year because I was perpetually baked back in those days) and was instantly captivated by the bargain basement anti-theatrics and ludicrousness of Cancer's voice when paired with the intriguing musicianship, so much so than I bought the vinyl version of AUTOPSY when I stumbled across it in a long-gone hole-in-the-wall record store in Portchester. I'd been into punk since 1978 and had absorbed most of the "name" bands of the era — Ramones, Pistols, Clash, DK's, etc. — but 45 Grave came as a surprise because they sounded nothing like any of their contemporaries and didn't make any attempt at the tunefulness or musicality of the Ramones, Misfits or the Clash (who, let's face it, were headed down a pop path from their second album on). They were weird and had a quirky sense of humor and they knew it, so I dug them.

But all the admiration in the world can't make up for the fact that "Black Cross" rocks some of the dumbest lyrics ever written and I'm at a loss as to exactly what the fuck the song is about. Here are the lyrics so you can write back and let me know if you understand any of it:

All I got is a black cross
and two crabs in my left eye (???)
What you say you want you want
Like a lump in your right thigh

We're going left on right
Don't want to see you again
Going left on right
Don't have many friends
Going left on right
Don't want to see you again
Going left on right
Don't have many friends

You, the users of the wheel
Stink of oil and electric eels
Users of forbidden tools
We must be the fools

(Chorus and strange instrumental interlude)

Cancel the world
Erase history
There is no future
As far as I can see

(Chorus and abrupt ending)



Jim Browski said...

The uninitiated may be most familiar with the band from the use of their song "Party Time" in the film Return of the Living Dead.

It is the song played as the ghouls begin their rise from the graves.

Satyrblade said...

And heeeeeere's Cancer!

I gather this is the video you saw all those years ago?