Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #45

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries have been based on requests made by you, dear readers. I want to take a moment to thank all of you who submitted requests. I hope that you were pleased with my efforts. The NW4NW series will resume its regularly once-a-week schedule in December. Although NW4NW All Request Month comes to a conclusion with this post, I am always open to your suggestions and requests for future entries - your feedback is greatly valued!]

New Hope for the Wretched album coverImage via Wikipedia

The final entry in NW4NW All Request Month comes from an old friend, Dave Demmin. Dave's was the last request I received, but I don't know that I could have chosen a better band to end the month on myself!

The Plasmatics were formed in New York City in 1977 by Yale Art School graduate Rod Swenson and the inimitable and highly confrontational Wendy O. Williams (which actually was her given name: Wendy Orleans Williams). They began auditioning band members for what was initially a conceptual art project that quickly evolved into one of the most controversial bands in any genre, much less the burgeoning Punk Rock scene. By mid-1978, the earliest incarnation of the band, which included guitarist Wes Beech (who, along with Williams, would be the only band members to be there from the beginning to the end of The Plasmatics), were regularly selling out CBGBs with their stunningly antagonistic performances. By 1979, they had amassed so large a following that CBGBs was no longer a large enough venue. In the fall of that year, The Plasmatics sold out the legendary Palladium Theater in NYC, becoming the first band to ever do so at full ticket price. That show was also where Wendy first blew up a car onstage.

Destructive visuals were part and parcel of The Plasmatics' live shows: exploding cars, chainsawing guitars in half, taking sledgehammers to walls of television sets, and blowing up amplifiers were regular occurrences, and were actually integral parts of many of their songs. They scared the bejeesus out of the mainstream media, and more and more clubs refused to allow them to perform. In fact, at one point the were banned completely from playing in England, where they were branded as anarchists. Williams would often explain that the message behind the destruction was that these things were just that - things, and things should not be worshiped. We have become too materialistic, but at the end of the show, despite all of the destruction of things, the world goes on.

Williams herself quickly became infamous as much for her onstage attire - or, often, lack thereof - as for her terrifying vocals. Sporting a mohawk and often appearing dressed in little more than a g-string and some strategically-placed duct tape, Williams pushed the boundaries of acceptability. She found herself arrested after a show in Milwaukee for allegedly simulating a sex act on stage with a sledgehammer; two nights later she was arrested in Cleveland for appearing onstage wearing nothing but shaving cream.

Their 1980 debut album, New Hope For The Wretched, remains one of the most jaw-droppingly fantastic Punk Rock albums ever recorded. Whipping along at hyper-speed, the band is remarkably tight and powerful. Songs like "Monkey Suit," "Living Dead," "Sometimes I...," and the first single from the album, "Butcher Baby," stand up remarkably well 30 years later. The only time the band falls apart is intentional: during the middle section of their cover of Bobby Darin's "Dream Lover," each band member was locked in a separate room, unable to hear what the other band members were playing. It's a moment of brilliant hilarity as the otherwise perfectly synced musicians suddenly sound like a roomful of chimpanzees slashing and pounding on tuneless instruments!

By the time their second album, Beyond The Valley Of 1984, was issued a year later, the band had gone through numerous legal battles, defenses of their image, and rotations of band members, and the wear and tear showed. Also, the band's overall sound was moving more towards heavy metal, a transformation that was fully realized with 1982's Coup D'Etat.

Williams released a remarkably good solo album, WOW, in 1984, but the final Plasmatics album, Maggots: The Record, released two years later, was a sad footnote to a once awesome band. Over the next several years Williams would make occasional appearances, but despite the urging of many, a Plasmatics reunion tour never materialized. Sadly, Williams committed suicide in 1998.

Many people hated The Plasmatics in their day, but many more loved them - and continue to do so. That first album remains one of my all-time favorites, and still sees regular airplay in my household. So, my thanks to Dave for this request - a fantastic call, and a great way to bring the month to a close. Our final entry in NW4NW All Request Month is The Plasmatics appearing on the TV show Fridays in January of 1981, performing "Butcher Baby" complete with chainsaw-guitar solo. Enjoy!

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