Back in early 1981, the mainstream U.S. music mags started to take notice of the burgeoning L.A. hardcore punk scene, and with one notable exception, Creem Magazine, they all hated it passionately. I will never forget Creem’s article about the new breed of punk because it used as a lift quote the following pearl of wisdom from Blondie’s Chris Stein: “For Christ’s sake, is that all you people in L.A. want to hear? Aggressive lyrics and a raging guitar?” I recall answering back (in my head if not out loud) “Why, yes, Chris, that is what we want to hear! We especially would rather hear that than the lame white rap and calypso you’re peddling these days!” I thought that Blondie were a decent garage pop band in their early days, but by the end of their first run they had turned to absolute dreck. Now, in 2006, we have a world with Blondie inducted into the Rock’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and a world without Pig Champion.
I never met Tom Roberts (a.k.a. Tom Pig and most famously Pig Champion), but I was certainly a fan of Poison Idea. I loved their songwriting and the way they would stretch the boundaries of punk by using piano or organ unexpectedly in a song. I think that their song “Discontent” is the single most intense recording I have ever heard. If you don’t know their music, my personal favorites are Feel the Darkness, Kings of Punk, Blank Blackout Vacant, and Pick Your King.
I put off writing this obituary because since I didn’t know Tom personally, I was having trouble deciding what to write. After sending out a few e-mails, I heard from an old friend of his who lived in Portland during the ‘80s and spent a lot of time with Tom. He told me that Tom’s dad died unexpectedly when Tom was around nine or ten, that Tom’s mother remarried and Tom left home as soon as he could. He owned motorcycles when he was in his ‘20s and was fond of guns. He also liked dating nurses and waitresses. My contact still did not know a cause of death, although everyone who knew him seemed surprised that he made it to age forty seven. One of my friends whose band played Portland while on tour in the early ‘90s got to hang out with Tom after their show. He told me that on that particular night Tom drank two six-packs of Guinness and then smoked black tar heroin.
I’m glad that I waited to write this obituary because Maximum Rock’n Roll #275 arrived and I was really struck by something that Zine Coordinator Golnar Nikpour wrote her in column for that issue. She mentioned being at a show not long after Tom died in which “three different bands covered Poison Idea songs from three different records.” Then she wrote “Brandon from Direct Control said it all when he lamented from the stage, ‘Pig Champion’s dead. Life is over.” The reason I found that quote from Brandon so interesting is that recently I’ve been digging through my old Maximums from the mid to late ‘80s when punk rock was not in great shape. I’ve really enjoyed re-reading Tim Yohannan’s old editorials about the then state of the scene and his record reviews of good bands from that period who’ve largely been forgotten. While I can’t obviously speak for Tim and he’s no longer around to speak for himself I can only imagine if he were alive today he might say to Brandon: “It’s sad that Pig Champion is no longer with us. Let’s never forget him, but your band kills!”
My point is that I think Direct Control has done more for punk rock than Poison Idea did since they reformed in the late ‘90s. Once they reformed, they managed only one three-song EP and some sporadic touring. I understand that health problems and personal and financial considerations get in the way of a band’s activities, especially as they get older. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few years where I’ve played on shows with much younger bands who invite me to a party after the show and I have to say no because all I feel like doing is going home and going to bed! So, I don’t mean any disrespect to the latter day Poison Idea.
I eagerly look forward to the release of the album they completed before Pig’s death. Direct Control has received a lot of deserved praise lately and if they want to keep their egos in check by deferring to their elders (both the departed and the still living) then that’s cool with me. What I’m saying is something like, “Don’t forget the past but don’t overlook what’s going on right now.”
I mean, spring is here, and I’m in the mood to hear some aggressive lyrics and a raging guitar. Whadda you got for me?