Anyone who was fortunate enough--or unfortunate enough, as the case may be--to have been at the Goleta Valley Community Theater nearly a decade ago couldn't possibly have forgotten the show that was going on in the audience as well as on stage.
As three local punk bands thrashed the night away, dancers or "slammers" in the audience--all of them males with short hair, colorful hair or no hair, and with looks in their eyes that could have scared the Predator's meaner brother--were beating each other's brains out in front of the stage.
When the headliners for the night took the stage, the raucous crowd didn't applaud. They began to spit--and with amazing accuracy too. In no time, the singer was soaking wet. After the hour show, the singer returned backstage, toweled himself off, put on his clean shirt and left with his date.
No one was killed, but the promoter got arrested.
The group was Fear, of course, which is just nature's way of scaring us.
It didn't take long for Fear to be called "the most notorious band in America."
"I'd say that's fair enough," Fearful frontman Lee Ving said in a recent phone interview.
Fear, gone from sight for several years, was John Belushi's favorite band. Belushi's not coming back, but look out, Fear is. The end result will still be wild, but with fewer beat-up cops and a better beat.
"We're back on the map and here to stay," Ving said. "It's difficult to put your finger on, but I think the world has finally caught up with our music. Other groups have become successful playing a style that we started; it's a style that people can relate to. Gradually, I began to see that if we were out there, we could have the success we should've had five or seven years ago."
The band was formed in the San Fernando Valley by Ving in 1978, but has been missing in action since 1986 until this spring. Maybe they had to get their shots and steam-clean their gear. The original lineup included Ving on lead growls and rhythm guitar, Philo Cramer on lead guitar, Derf Scratch on bass and Spit Stix on drums.
Scratch will be replaced by Will McGregor for the current tour, which will include a boozeless blowout tonight at the Anaconda Theater in Isla Vista, the place without a liquor license but just as many cops outside. Another gig planned for the same venue in March was gonged at the last minute, but a show in L. A. at the Palladium the same month was just like old times.
"Man, you couldn't have gotten another person in that place with a shoehorn," Ving said. "There were as many people outside as there were inside. There were 100 helmeted riot police, the CNN helicopter and a bunch of skinheads with baseball bats looking for cops. It was great."
Recently, Ving said, the group sold out a show in New York, "so I figure since we've sold out on both coasts, it's time for the rest of the country."
In addition to its raucous live performances, Fear is remembered for a wild first and last appearance on "Saturday Night Live" back in 1981. This may be the one show you won't catch on Nick at Nite.
"They said we caused half a million dollars worth of damage, but nothing much really happened," Ving claimed. "Some piece of equipment worth 50 bucks got broken. Then someone from the audience said a four-letter word over the microphone that they couldn't bleep out.
"We didn't have anything to do with that. We were just trying to give a good performance. I guess it was a historical event. It's never been on again, or so I've heard. One guy in New York was selling grainy bootleg copies for 40 bucks."
After the SNL appearance, the band went on to record perhaps the definitive punk album, "The Record," recently reissued on CD, even though the name didn't get changed to "The CD."
The album is boorish, disgusting, grotesque, gnarly--and lots of fun to anyone with a slightly demented sense of humor. The 15-song CD only lasts 27 minutes, so it's over before you can get tired of it. Very little of "The Record" is suitable for airplay, nor are the lyrics suitable for quotation in a family newspaper.
One cut, called "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones" is the all-time anti-Noo Yawk song. If they played it at a Kings game, there'd probably be a bigger fight in the stands than on the ice.
"I Love Livin' in the City" questions why anyone would want to live anywhere larger than Meiners Oaks. And echoing Jonathan Swift's logic, except with speed of light guitars, the cure for crowding is simple: "Let's Have a War."
The rest, well, never mind--except to say the CD has a bonus track featuring a bah humbug anti-Christmas song. It won't be on MTV either.
Fear had a less successful follow-up to "The Record" called "More Beer" in 1985, followed by a live album recorded the same year but just recently released on Restless Records. But don't expect any of those "all-the-hits-all-the-time" radio stations to bump Mariah Carey for Fear.