This one is very personal.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit, I am a huge fan of Dan Clark. I loved watching Victory Acres play as a young'un and I still love listening to them now. As for Joke Flower, they were more of a guilty pleasure, as most of my friends would shake their head and just sort of laugh when they came up in conversation, but there was something about them I never let go of, even after all of these years.
The story of the Victory Acres/Joke Flower split record, which was one of the last releases by Placebo Records, is really the story of a man and his wife and some of their cool and talented friends. Each side of the record has a distinct flavor and while the measure of influence is always subjective, this record and the primary players who made it, influenced countless people in and out of Arizona.
Dan and Mary Clark are the only two folks who were part of every incarnation of these two bands. While they now live in Bisbee, they were major players in how the Phoenix punk scene not only formed, but also in how it sounds. Clark, whose brother Doug (Mighty Sphincter, The Brainz) also played on the Victory Acres portion of this record, was part of the early Phoenix punk scene from the get go. He's a walking encyclopedia of Phoenix punk facts.
Prior to forming the Victory Acres, which technically could also be considered a Los Angeles band (don't start penning hate mail just yet though), Dan Clark spent time in the Exterminators, the Liars, and, more notably, as bass player for the Feederz (under the moniker, Clear Bob).
"Victory Acres got started because of some turmoil with the Feederz. We [The Feederz] had some gigs in California, I had finals, and Frank [Discussion, infamous guitar player/singer/provocateur] ended up pulling off the gigs, but I screwed up my finals so I told Mary, 'We're out of here' and we loaded up our big green station wagon and we headed out to Pasadena and stayed with David Wiley [the Consumers] for a while," says Clark.
This was 1978, and the Clarks were part of what must have seemed like a mass exodus of early Phoenix punks to the Los Angeles area.
Eventually, Dan and Mary, who handled the lead vocal duties for both Victory Acres and Joke Flower, found their way to Hollywood. Dan continues, "When we moved to Hollywood, Mary and I were both working on Hollywood Boulevard. Mary was selling tickets for the movie theater across from Grauman's Chinese theater [which by then was Mann's] and I was off the street a bit. Don't go there now, it's boring now, but we went there and things were starting to really decay." Considering the lyrics of both Victory Acres and Joke Flower, a decaying society was probably a huge draw for first wave punks like the Clarks.
The couple befriended a guy who was putting together a show which was to feature UK bands Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, and the Young Marble Giants. Due to Joy Division singer Ian Curtis' suicide, Joy Division didn't make the trip, but Cabaret Voltaire, Young Marble Giants, and Monitor (classic LA art-rock band) did, and the Clarks were asked to put together a band to play as well. They came up with the name Victory Acres and recruited Paul Cutler (The Consumers, 45 Grave, Dream Syndicate) and Michael Ochoa (Nervous Gender) to round out the lineup.
"I played bass and guitar, but it really wasn't like playing chords. We pretty much did it because the guy said we could do it," Clark says.
Victory Acres would play again before they moved back to Phoenix, but it wasn't until they returned to the desert that the band really began to take shape.
The Victory Acres lineup on this particular record was particularly stellar. In addition to the Clarks (Dan on bass, Mary on vocals, and Doug on guitar), two Meat Puppets' Derek Bostrom and Cris Kirkwood were drums and organ, respectively. Kirkwood was relatively new to the organ, but according to Bostrom, his stage presence really "livened things up."
"Those guys are friends of mine, Danny and Mary. At a point, Danny and Mary were back here in town and had started Victory Acres up again with Doug [Clark]," Kirkwood says. "They asked Derek and I to play and I thought, 'why not?' I was on keyboards, which was new for me, but it was all still music. That version of the band was a tight little pop thing."
Bostrom had known Dan since they had met when Clark played in the Exterminators. "We stayed at their (Dan and Mary's) house when we (Meat Puppets) would go to Los Angeles, and we kept in touch. When they moved back and wanted to get Victory Acres going again, I joined in," shared Bostrom.
"We actually practiced and worked it into a good band," added Kirkwood.
Due to the Meat Puppets' tour schedule in the early '80s, Bostrom and Kirkwood's tenure in Victory Acres was a short one, but luckily, the band decided to go into Cereus Studios in Tempe and for, according to Dan Clark, $100 they recorded and mixed nine songs over a couple of days.
While Kirkwood doesn't remember any of the details of the recording, he is proud of the record.
"It was kind of like the Cars, or something. You know, these nice little pop arrangements. It was well arranged," says Kirkwood, without a hint of sarcasm.
There is a deceptively catchy nature to the Victory Acres stuff, even if it only reminds Kirkwood of a band like the Cars. Dan Clark adds, "We were just doing songs I recorded in my living room, but when Derek and Cris came along, it was just easy. Those guys are so good."
The Victory Acres side kicks off with a haunting little Doug Clark instrumental called "Two Thousand Tegus" which features the two Clarks and the two Meat Puppets prominently on a typical serpentine desert punk noise rag. Kirkwood weaves a neat little keyboard line into Dan and Doug's intricate bass and lead guitar. It segues into "A Cup of Coffee Please," which brings Mary into the mix, sing/chanting lyrics based on the common sayings of a customer at Pete's Fish and Chips, where Dan worked.
"[This guy] would come in and order a cup of coffee and occasionally spout some fairly accurate observations. 'Some day safety will become a hazard' ... 'Unwrap that gift and burn it!' He also wrote equations on napkins. ... I couldn't figure them out but I'm sure they were important," Dan Clark says.
Songs like "A Cup of Coffee Please" and "Camera" show the brilliant nervous energy of this band. Doug Clark's guitar work is straight up rockin' on these two songs, perfectly punctuating the stuttering beat laid down by Dan Clark and Bostrom. Track four, "Looking Up the Bottle's Neck" is Bostrom's favorite from the session.
The one minute, 24 seconds of "I Love a Mystery" is almost like a bit of comedic relief in the middle of the Victory Acres side of this record, but it's really not comedic at all, even with its "Bow Wow" chorus. Kirkwood plays a circus-like dirge straight out of the Ray Manzarek (the Doors) school of organ grinding, while Mary laments the loss of our collective innocence at the hand of mandatory conformity. The penultimate track, "Let's Just Lounge," is a classic piece of Phoenix punk. At just over three and a half minutes, "Let's Just Lounge" is the longest track on the record, and for my money, the best, with its killer weird hooks that weave themselves into your brain as the Clark brothers' fingers find their way around the fret board.
"Wings of Satan" ends the Victory Acres offering and it is like listening to punk rock deconstructed. The influence of Doug Clark is strong on this one as this could have easily been a Mighty Sphincter riff, and the lyrics are also completely Sphincter-esque. "If I had the wings of Satan / into your soul I would fly / I'd give you everything you wanted / and take away your will to survive" is how the song starts out, and it just goes further into hell from there. With their tongues firmly planted in their collective cheeks, Victory Acres played and sang whatever they wanted.
Joke Flower (who was active in the Phoenix scene during the mid-'80s) got started because Dan and Mary were living in an apartment in Tempe where they could only play acoustic instruments. Friend and neighbor, Charlie Gocher (Sun City Girls) lived in a trailer the next lot over and would join Dan and Mary for jam sessions.
"By 1982, we were realizing punk rock was dead, or at least so fucking stupid you didn't want to do it anymore. It was me on acoustic guitar with tambourine on my foot, and Charlie on electric guitar and kicking his drum with his foot. Charlie was a great guitar player...he played in country bands in Prescott for years. Then he decided he wanted to be a jazz drummer. He was a poet when I met him," said Dan of his bandmate. Gocher, who died of cancer in 2007, was active in Joke Flower until he moved with his fellow Sun City Girls to Seattle.
"All three of us would sing. Really just to piss punks off, and they would get pissed and would we would laugh at them. Back then, it was all just a bunch of stupid JFA fans fucking everything up. Even if they played with the Meat Puppets, the kids would all dance for JFA and then sit down when the Puppets played," Dan Clark says.
The humor of Joke Flower is not lost on their side of this awesome split, which was recorded at David Oliphant's home studio in 1984. This time, though, the tab for recording was $150.
On the recording, where the Clarks (this time with Dan on guitar) and Gocher (drums) are joined by Casey O'Neal on bass, the Joke Flower stuff is definitely more straight up and rockin' than it was during their average live set, which were purposely done on a much more mellow level. Think "anti-hardcore" of the early '80s and there you have Joke Flower, even though Joke Flower's lyrics were just as angry as anything else going around. The country-tinged opening of "America's Breadbasket" is a deft feint that jumps into a political punk rant about religion and freedom of choice, while maintaining its decidedly un-punk musical direction.
The brilliantly worded "Human Coat" is another example of the killer lyrics of Dan and Mary Clark, who share the credit on for lyrics on both sides of this record. Mary's delivery of this song, and basically every rant on the record, is basically flawless, considering how quickly it was recorded. "Human Coat" flows into "Bikinis and Atomic Bombs" and then into "His Big Urine" creating an almost-five-minute flurry of punk noise. Gocher's drumming is also right on point, as usual, and allows Dan and O'Neal to roll through the intricate riffs of these three songs with ease.It is easy to forget just how good Gocher was, especially when much of the Sun City Girls vast catalog has gone unnoticed by the more casual punk and noise fans.
"Dirty Hands" is the fifth track. Most Phoenix punks are familiar with the infectious lyric, "Masturbating with dirty hands (drop the bomb, drop the bomb, drop the bomb), squeeze the seeds of life out of your glands (drop the bomb, drop the bomb, drop the bomb)" but maybe don't remember that it Joke Flower who gave us this gem.The tune itself is as bombastic as the chorus implies and punctuates the attack of its three punkier predecessors.
The final 10 minutes of the Joke Flower side, which features the somewhat forgettable "Confetti," is not as memorable as the first half, but picks up occasionally. "Hunger Dogs" has interesting lyrics and some great riffage throughout the song. "Confession Red, Gone Fishin' Fred" is Phoenix noise at its finest, musically, and more of the same vocal attack. There is a slight upturn with "The King of Emptiness" which as a great combination of Mary Clark vocal attack and manic Dan Clark riffing over Gocher's solid but wild beat. "Man Destroys the Things He Loves" finishes the record appropriately. It's trippy and slightly askew, but the final song is still firmly skewering society with its lyrics, and there is a plethora of interesting backup vocals as well.
While the Joke Flower side is not as strong from start to finish as the Victory Acres side, it still deserves to get much more than the occasional mercy spin. The combination of gifted local musicians on this record is truly inspiring in that talented people, who have had multiple levels of spotlight on them, can come together, create something vibrant, and do so in a short period of time. While Victory Acres and Joke Flower each had relatively long and healthy lives as working bands, the incarnations on these recordings were relatively short-lived, which makes the record even more special, at least to fans.
Additionally, this record is more than a footnote on the storied career of current and former Meat Puppets, or members of Sun City Girls and Mighty Sphincter. It's a document as to the weirdness and gifted musicality that was, and most surely, still lives within the hearts and minds of Dan and Mary Clark. Victory Acres played as recently as 2011 and Dan admits to still getting the occasional itch to play.
"I'll probably do some synthesizer stuff that will really piss people off in Bisbee, but that's all right," Dan says.
Clark has fond memories of days gone by.
"Those days were great. It's a lot different than how punk rocked turned out. To me now, punk rock is like rockabilly or something. For guys who work in gas stations. I don't think that first wave of punk rockers was wearing leather jackets," he says, laughing.
No, Dan, the folks you grew up with weren't wearing leather jackets, nor were they wearing a uniform or shopping at Hot Topic to outfit said uniform with the band t-shirt du jour. Bands like Victory Acres and Joke Flowe stood for something different, and whether you liked them or their music was up to you. I believe strongly Dan and Mary Clark are very okay with whatever you decide today or whatever you thought about them back in "the day," which is what made them punk as fuck and highly influential.
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