Unleash Your Inner Glam Fag: Confessions of an Androgynous Grade Schooler

I thought that Mitchell was the coolest guy in the fourth grade. Why? Well, he had the longest hair of any guy in the fourth grade. If you were a guy growing up in a small, rural, Southern town in the ’70s, wearing your hair long was still considered a rebellious act. I don’t remember if I ever asked him why he wore his hair so long. Why was I curious? Because I had the second-longest hair of any guy in the fourth grade.

My reason for having long hair was because all the rock dudes I considered cool at the time had long hair and I wanted to be a cool rock dude myself one day. I can’t recall any other wannabe rockers from elementary school. By junior high, Mitchell had cut his hair to a more socially acceptable length for guys, whereas mine stayed not quite shoulder-length. It didn’t seem to alter the public perception of us, though. Most of the regular Joes in our school didn’t think we were wanna-be rockers or wanna-be hippies. They thought we were homos. When guys one grade above me would approach me and ask if I were a boy or a girl, I thought they were just fucking with me in the way that dumbass conformist types do, and while that may also have been the case, nowadays when I look back at my seventh grade school picture I can’t help but think, “I did look like a girl!” I was androgynous-looking and I wasn’t even trying to be. Damn!

As the smart Razorcake readers that you are, I’m sure you know that those macho, conformist dudes were wrong in more ways than one. Mitchell and I weren’t homos. We just accidentally looked like them, I guess, in the small town Bible Belt South. Mitchell liked girls, such as Natalie. I thought that Natalie was cool, but a little too mainstream for my tastes. She has to be one of those Volvo-driving soccer moms now. What about my, uh, unconventional tastes? Well, I liked smart girls going bad like Paula. She had been labeled one of the “smart kids” (along with yours truly) in Mrs. Shoemaker’s fifth grade class, but by age fourteen Paula was regularly in trouble at school for stealing and smoking pot. Since any kind of rebellion was a scarce commodity in our little burg, my response was “Hell, yeah” and I was in love – or as close as I could get to it at the time. Paula and her family soon moved out of state, but the die had been cast for me. There would be no Volvo-driving, soccer mom/wife in my future. If only I and some of my young, tough-guy tormenters could have seen into the future when one day I would know a then-unthinkable reality: depressed, pale, art majoring, non-sorority babes who wore a lot of black and thought that girly guys like David Bowie and Robert Smith were hot shit.

Why have these things been on my mind lately? They came flooding back one day in 2003. I was at the local indie record store where some local indie bands were supposed to play a show. Elevator Action was one of those bands. I had seen them many times before and was definitely a fan, but on this particular day only guitarist/singer Eric Gilstrap showed. For the first time, I heard him play some of the band’s songs acoustically and I was finally able to hear some of the lyrics that had previously gotten lost in their usual loud band setting.

“Don’t you know I’m a boy and I got no name/
Don’t you know I’m a girl and I got no shame/
Don’t you know that I’m caught somewhere in between/
It’s summertime and you know that it drives me insane.”

Beneath his purple mop of hair I recognized a kindred spirit. I remembered that Eric grew up in a small Southern town too. It’s called Marshville and I’ve driven past it many times, as there is a major highway that runs through it. There’s a large sign there that says something like “Marshville – Home of Country Singer Randy Travis” or something to that effect. I’ve never asked him about his experiences growing up there, but once I heard those words I was sure his story would sound all too familiar to me.

Here is a good place to invoke the Traditional Razorcake Disclosure Statement. As previously stated, Elevator Action is local to me; our locality being Charlotte, NC. I, of course, know the members of the band personally. How can you trust that what I write isn’t tainted by friendship or social climbing? Well, when I go to a local punk show I am in my element and always see lots of people I know who are happy to talk to me. Elevator Action draws more of a glam rock/indie rock crowd. I still see people that I know at their shows, but not that many of them want to talk to me. In other words, when I go to an Elevator Action show, it’s definitely more for the music than for the socializing.

And, speaking of their music, in September 2004, their first CD, It’s Just Addiction, was released on the local Morisen label. As the group has been playing shows since summer 2002, I was very well acquainted with the songs. At first I was afraid that my prior familiarity would prevent me from playing it much, but, happily, I was wrong. I don’t want to overlook the other members of the band: Gary Guthrie is a solid drummer and Laurie Ruroden plays bass and provides key backing vocals. It is, however, the guitar-playing lead singer who puts a face and a concept on this music. The lyrical theme from the above quote does pop up in other songs. Sometimes it’s not so obvious (“I don’t know why but I got a sexual emergency” without telling us what exactly the emergency is) and other times it’s dead-on (“I think I’m blue but I’m pink” with the actual CD itself having no writing or logos on it but being a solid pink color instead). Musically, they write concise, melodic songs that mostly bounce along at, say, a Buzzcocks tempo. They aren’t a punk band by today’s narrowed standards, but if this album had been released in the 1977-1980 period, they would have definitely been considered punk. Some lyrical themes expressed here fit quite well with early punk’s frequently negative thoughts, such as on “Models Wanted,” when Eric sings “I know it seems so unfair/ Suicide is in the air/ Confess your love, I don’t care” or on “Come On, Hate Me,” in which he begs someone to follow through on the song’s title. I also completely enjoy Eric’s guitar playing, which can go from floating along melodically to snarling viciously. I’ve played this album many times since I got it at their CD release party and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Their live shows have, at times, been very punk in a “is this really happening?” way. Their CD release party in September at their favorite local club, The Steeple, showed the band at their most combative. They stopped a new song about one verse in and some words were exchanged between Gary and Eric. Gary got up from his drum kit, walked up to Eric’s mic, and bellowed “I don’t give a fuck” to the audience before sitting back down. They continued playing, but the mood was like The Sex Pistols at Winterland in ’78 (if you’ve ever seen that footage). Later, Gary complained into his mic that, “We’ve played longer than we ever play. I want to start drinking.” Eric apologized to the audience several times saying things like, “We’re almost done… we’ll be out of your hair soon,” and, “Buy our CD… maybe you’ll like it better than this.” I felt bad for them, but at the same time I felt somehow reassured. Reassured? I think it’s because so many bands nowadays come across as wannabe rockstars and ass-kissers . The local label that Elevator Action is on apparently has deep pockets and certainly mainstream ambitions (go to www.morisen.com and see for yourself and there is also a link from there to www.elevatoractionband.com). And yet at the release party for their first CD, Elevator Action did not kiss my ass or anyone else’s. I’ve seen the band live between twenty and thirty times in the last two years, and the aforementioned temper tantrums and tension aren’t a constant at the majority of shows I’ve seen, but the threat of it is always there.

So what does the future hold for them? As much as I’d like to have the current generation of depressed, pale, art-majoring, non-sorority, black-clad babes listening to Elevator Action’s music, I’m afraid it’s a long road from The Steeple to all of their bedrooms. When I think back, I remember that the young women I’m writing about were usually more impressed with David Bowie and Robert Smith than they were with their local equivalents of the same. Maybe those local equivalents were lesser men (in a girly way, of course), but also because guys like Bowie and Smith were far away and unattainable they may have seemed more exciting than that local girly guy who was stuck in the same boring town as you with his less glamorous life more readily exposed.

On the back sleeve of the first Clash single, “White Riot/1977,” there is a collage of photos and text from unidentified sources. Among them is a quote that I always found as loaded with meaning as my favorite Clash songs: “Youth, after all, is not a permanent condition, and a clash of generations is not so fundamentally dangerous to the art of government as would be a clash between ruler and ruled.” In that sentence I can see the entire history of punk. The “clash between ruler and ruled” speaks to every left-leaning punk band from The Clash to Crass to today’s crusties. “Youth, after all, is not a permanent condition” makes me think of The Germs and bands like Elevator Action. It reminds me of the nihilistic, self-destructive worldview that does not usually evolve to the sense of protest and solidarity hinted at in the latter part of the above quote. The Elevator Action album is called It’s Just Addiction, as if they’re saying “it’s nothing… don’t make a big deal out of it… it doesn’t matter” which fits right in with “we’re almost done… we’ll be out of your hair soon.” It is the opposite of the tribal fanaticism that led The Germs and their followers to give each other “Germs burns.” As Germs guitarist Pat Smear once said, “It was the idea of something permanent, so that in ten years you’d be at the supermarket, and some lady would give you change, and you’d see the burn and make a connection.” So, Elevator Action embodies a healthier form of self-destruction, maybe, despite the apparent contradiction in that statement. All of which means the band may stay together longer than The Germs did, but being from our less exotic locale there is less chance that they will become as well known. If I’ve sparked your interest, then I’d say, get it while you can.