Most Influential Arizona Punk Rock Records: #1 -- The Consumers, All My Friends Are Dead
When I initially pitched the idea of doing a list of 10 local records I found to be hugely influential, I had no idea where the road would lead or what I would find when I traveled it. The journey has been enlightening, fairly difficult, and, more than anything, it has been a huge gift to my own soul, and hopefully some of yours, to hear and read the stories of how these records came to exist. The bands have been great to work with and, for the most part, have seemed genuinely happy to share their stories. Without the help, though, of Dan Clark and Arthur Shane, this would have been much more difficult to undertake, so I would like to thank both of them from the bottom of my blackened heart.
Music, at least for me, is as much about discovery as it is creation. From the work of the Zany Guys to the Consumers, who I will profile in this final piece, there is still so much to discover, so much to be inspired by, and so much to celebrate. I know I've only scratched the surface on Arizona's incredible music scene and, more than anything, I look forward to the next batch of influential bands and records to write about as there is plenty out there from which to choose.
Arguably, the Consumers started it all when it comes to Arizona punk rock. This argument is moot, of course, because the pieces of this puzzle all fell into place almost 40 years ago and The Consumers are the only one of the first three Arizona punk bands (The Liars and The Exterminators were the other two) to have a record out there.
All My Friends Are Dead was recorded in 1977. In fact, I have seen the receipt from Livingston Audio Productions from December 3, 1977, to prove it, thanks to Paul Cutler, who played guitar and was one of the five members of the Consumers. For my money, they are both the first and the most influential of all Arizona punk rock bands. The record in question fucking rules, and their influence is apparent in all of the other nine bands in this series.
Cutler and fellow surviving member bassist Mikey Borens were joined by vocalist David Wiley (later of L.A. post-punk group Human Hands), guitarist Greg Jones, and drummer Jim Allen (eventually replaced by John "Johnny Precious" Vivier for live shows) on All My Friends Are Dead, which was not released until 18 years after it was recorded. For years, not much was known about the Consumers, and 37 years later, the details of the band are not always easy to come by.
Bassist Borens says, "I do remember how much everyone liked music and playing music and how were interested in so many things -- art, music, literature. That's what people should know. We listened to everything from glitter rock to krautrock to experimental and jazz rock. Sometimes I hear it in the music and sometimes not. Consumers music was a distillation of a lot of things. And the guys in the Consumers brought a lot of thought and energy to the band. When we played, we played for keeps."
Courtesy of Paul Cutler
"We were lunatics," remembers Cutler. "The dynamic was get high -- except Mikey, who was sober -- and play music. I suppose the closest thing we had to a leader was David Wiley, who was the lead singer. Unfortunately, David slipped this mortal coil quite a few years ago."
Wiley, who died in 1986, played a pivotal role in determining the direction of the Consumers' sound after bringing a copy of the Sex Pistols single "Anarchy in the UK" back from Los Angeles (where the Consumers eventually would move) in early 1977.
"David, Greg, and I came from the avant garde, not from Iggy and Bowie, like a lot of punk rockers," added Cutler, who went on to play in 45 Grave and Dream Syndicate. "We had a musical ensemble called Modern Tribal Music that played phonographs, toy instruments, and various kitchen utensils. We had been interested in new music for quite some time when we started playing punk. It was just another iteration of newness." It goes without saying that punk rock, in 1977, was about as new as you could get if you were starting a band, even if the Valley was not exactly welcoming.
Both Borens and Cutler are blunt in their assessment of the 1977 version of Phoenix and how accepting the average music fan and club were to the Consumers.
"Phoenix hated us for the most part," Borens says. "I can remember how much fun it was, but I also remember how stupid it was and how violent. It's hard to live that every day. Punk wasn't the smiley-faced Green Day thing back then. It was a thing that got you into fights, that made the neighbors hate you."
Cutler's take is, pardon the pun, equally cutting.
"It was crap. There were no original smaller clubs, nothing much smaller than the Celebrity Theatre. I do remember seeing Robin Trower, Zephyr, and a few other acts at smaller venues, but by and large, if you weren't a cover band, there was nowhere to play. Because of this, when we started playing, we had to play multiple sets. We had enough material for two complete sets and we would repeat some songs in order to play the third one."
Courtesy of Paul Cutler
The band's first-ever gig was at a club called The Zoo, and the Consumers, according to Borens, did their three sets to people dressed in garbage bags, thrift store attire, and military garb.
"We introduced drink specials and did our thing, which was loud and faster than fast. Everyone that showed up was so into it, so interested in what was going on," Borens says.
Subsequent gigs often turned into violent confrontations, and eventually the band got tired of fighting with the crowds in Phoenix and moved on to the seemingly greener punk pastures of Los Angeles.
"The punk ethos of destroy everything was something that really appealed to us," Cutler says. "I hated public school. I hated Phoenix, which was at that point largely a retirement community with not much opportunity for young people. I hated the consensus of society. I hated the government. I hated the police. Destroy everything made perfect sense. Still does."
When you listen to All My Friends Are Dead (and you definitely should), you hear the influence of the Sex Pistols, but there are also hints of both the Damned and the Ramones mixed in there as well. The Consumers more than hold their own against these better-known punk powerhouses, and one can only wonder if their name would be up there in the pantheon of punk as well if Dangerhouse Records, which originally was supposed to release the record, as well as the Consumers themselves, had not imploded when it did.
Luckily, In the Red Recordings was able to connect with Cutler in 1995 and get hold of the recording to finally put it out for the masses.
"Amazingly, I still had the 2-track master. It had to be baked [a process that is used on old tape archives] in order to copy it to a DAT tape," said Cutler.
The recording itself, from a quality standpoint, is fantastic, considering the years it spent in a box in one of Cutler's closets. The guitar work of Cutler and the late Greg Jones cut straight through the bone in between Wiley's jagged blasts of vocal angst. Borens' nifty bass runs are just as sharp, though, and drive songs like "Anti Anti Anti" and the self-titled "Consumers," which are better than anything 90 percent of the songs bands they inspired put out. Allen's drumming is capable and crash-heavy, but it would have been interesting to have heard what the extremely talented Vivier could have done with these songs in the studio.
"The whole recording took about a day and half. We tracked all of it in one session and came back for a half-day to mix it," Cutler says. "The sessions were done in an eight-track country demo studio in Phoenix. My friend Joey Dears was working there as an engineer and had accumulated some free hours. He decided to record The Consumers."
The Consumers did keep it simple and to the point, for sure, but in the same way a lot of the best aggressive music works, their attitude and proficiency allowed them to take something simple and pure and turn it into a masterpiece. There is anger and angst by the bucket, on All My Friends Are Dead, but there also is craftsmanship and oceans of potential. The mere thought of what their follow-up record might have been like is mesmerizing, although you can get some inkling of what it could have been by listening to early 45 Grave (Cutler), Human Hands (Wiley), and The Romans (Borens).
After heading to Los Angeles in 1978, the band were eager to take their place as the wildest, craziest band of desert rats to take over the burgeoning first wave of West Coast punk rock. Phoenix couldn't handle them, and apparently L.A. was not quite ready, either.
"When we got to L.A., there were about 20 to 30 bands in the scene and none of them sounded alike. There were synthesizer punk bands, rockabilly punk bands, et cetera. A lot more fun before the scene began to change in 1979," says Cutler. "They thought we were nuts and called us 'Cactusheads.' They weren't wrong. We didn't have respect for the punk 'scene' or the scenesters in it."
During their short run in L.A., which was just shy of a year, they developed a reputation for violence. Wiley would pull stunts like pretending to commit suicide on stage, or Cutler and Wiley would fake fights and these pieces of performance art would confound their audience. The Consumers were anything but safe and, eventually, their combustible nature took its toll. Cutler, Jones, and then-drummer Vivier moved back to Phoenix while Borens and Wiley stayed in Los Angeles.
As for the genre he helped pioneer, Borens has mixed feelings about punk rock today, although both he and Cutler, the two surviving members of the Consumers, are still part of the "scene" to a certain extent.
"I don't think about punk rock music, don't listen to what is considered new punk music, and can't imagine what the term even means. Sure, maybe there's a bunch of misfits out there doing something punk rock cool, but I don't know what that is. And before you label me as some old curmudgeon fucker that thinks that only what I did -- what we did back in the day -- is valid, think again. I just acknowledge the change, that 'punk rock' is nothing more than a marketing term," Borens says.
Even though he's right when it comes to the marketing aspect of punk rock, there are definitely a lot of folks out there playing good punk rock these days, even ones who might not classify as misfits. Borens and Cutler work for Golden Voice, which promotes rock 'n' roll shows all over Southern California and was one of the bigger punk promoters during the early heyday, so they understand the business aspect and the financial boon created when punk became more acceptable to a wider audience during the early '90s.
While punk may not be as dangerous as it once was, the Valley of the Sun still has a thriving scene, many of which have no idea about the debt they owe to the early bands, including the Consumers. We certainly won't forget them anytime soon, and as long as there are copies of All My Friends Are Dead available (which you can find for around $20 on the web . . . go buy it now!), all will be well.
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