Punk Monk

He moved to Phoenix in 1984, and met his second wife almost immediately. He went to work in her accounting business. He still works there.

In 1987, he started playing with bands around the Valley. He met JoDina, One Foot in the Grave's lead singer, and that led to his career as a punker.

"JoDina came in looking for a bass player. She just wanted to get some old people to be in a punk band. I had never played a lick of punk in my life, but I started listening to it. First I heard was 'Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child (He's a Bigfoot Baby All Covered With Fur),' and I loved it. Then I got into the classics--Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, all of that. I have a pretty extensive punk-rock collection now. One of my favorites is a German band called Totenhosen. It means 'dead pants.'"

JoDina recalls her punk initiation.
"My son's a standup comedian, and I saw all the fun he had onstage. But I'm shy. At Halloween, though, I wasn't shy, and I'd go punk dancing. I told my son, 'I want to be onstage, but I can't sing for shit, I can't act, I can't dance.' He said, 'Mom, you can be a punk rocker.' I wanted to get a band full of pissed-off women to sing nasty songs about our ex-husbands, but all the women I thought were fun weren't fun. . . .

"So I put an ad in the paper, and these old men answered it. But when I said the words 'punk rock,' 11 out of 12 ran away. The one who stayed was Gino, our drummer. (He's just left to pursue an acting career at the age of 80.) So I kept looking for others. If I saw an old guy in the supermarket, I'd go up to him and ask him if he could play an instrument. They all thought I was fucking nuts."

Why does she do it?
"My son says it's just so I can meet young guys. I date guys 28 years younger than me, so he's probably right. Actually, I am looking for a new boyfriend right now, and you can quote me on that."

She complains that, although she stage-dives regularly, the only time she's been groped was by a girl.

For four years, One Foot in the Grave simply practiced, once or twice every week. There were no gigs. JoDina was the second youngest member, being three years older than Wieser. The drummer, Gino Costa, and guitar player, Danny Walters, were both 74.

Finally, in 1991, Wieser was at an independent music conference in L.A., and he let people hear a tape the band had made. That got them a gig at the Arizona All-State Jam in the Phoenix warehouse district that was razed to make way for Bank One Ballpark.

"We played outdoors, out back of a produce warehouse. It was June, so you know it was hot. Dead Hot Workshop and Zig Zag Black played, too. It was amazing. Kids came up to touch Gino's hand like he was the pope or something. We were interviewed on all the news shows. We were in papers all over the country. Inside Edition featured us. So did Hard Copy. Gino got on Montel Williams, JoDina got on Sally Jessy. . . ."

They also appeared on Entertainment Tonight, which led to their first album, Lookin' Good! Who's Your Embalmer?, being released on Triple X records. Their second album, Old Farts, was put out by a German label which promptly went bankrupt.

Both of these albums, and the band that made them, have often been dismissed as a novelty entertainment, a joke that's funny once. Such condemnation is shallow. What makes One Foot in the Grave funny is that it's a genuinely good punk band. If you listened to the albums without knowing anything about them, you'd think you were listening to a bunch of East Coast kids. Their sound is somewhere between the Velvet Underground and the Violent Femmes, the band playing with laconic fury behind JoDina's flat, tuneless, Nicoesque vocals.

It's only when you listen to the lyrics that you realize that something's up. The Violent Femmes didn't write songs about golf carts, menopause or being old and cheating death. Imagine what might have been if the Sex Pistols had been fronted by Loudon Wainwright III instead of Johnny Rotten, and you have an idea of what Wieser and his cohorts sound like.

For the past four years, they've toured Germany, Holland and Austria. The band hasn't toured the United States. "We tried, but couldn't have made any money," Wieser explains. "Even in Europe, our money doesn't come from the door, but from selling tee shirts and CDs. Locally, we haven't given up. We're going to try another push this fall and see what happens."

They haven't played much in Arizona. "It's hard to make money here," Wieser says. "Everybody knows us and likes us, but around here if you charge at the door nobody comes."

He laughs.
"A prophet is without honor in his own land."

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com

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