Consider this question: Are you an Earwig?
Let the idea roll around on your brain for a minute. Longtime Phoenicians know the bug well, even if they haven't seen one for a while. Are you a human equivalent? Are you even a 10th earwig?
More than likely, this is an important distinction to make, especially if you are to interact with Frank Discussion, who played guitar and sang lead vocals for The Feederz during the entirety of their career. Discussion doesn't care for earwigs, human or otherwise, and the inspiration for the title track of their influential Jesus came from walking around the Arizona State University campus one day in the late '70s with a used Kotex hanging out of his mouth.
"The reactions of the earwigs at ASU made me really want to rip into [their] most sacred and cherished beliefs," Discussion says.
Along with bandmates Art Nouveau (a.k.a. the late, great John Vivier/John E. Precious) on drums and Clear Bob (Dan Clark) on bass, Discussion was no stranger to odd reactions or caustic attacks.
"We were playing one time, and my brother [Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood] was standing in front of us with his eyes closed, you know, getting lost in the music, and Frank just gave him like a karate kick right to the gut," says Cris Kirkwood, who may have played bass on one track from the Jesus EP and performed live with the Feederz for a year or so.
Kirkwood says Discussion dropped a boom box off his balcony, narrowly missing him as he arrived for his first rehearsal with the band after Clear Bob had moved to Los Angeles. The tales of Frank Discussion's antagonistic behavior are legendary, but considering he views much of the human race as earwigs, it kind of makes sense. What makes even more sense is the level of influence the Feederz have had on punk rock, especially in Phoenix.
From a theatrical standpoint, there has never been a shortage of bands around town who were more than willing to create a spectacle, but one wonders, as any earwig would, how much of the trail had already been blazed by Discussion and friends. From all accounts, Discussion was an active player in the early days of Phoenix punk, whether he was kicking future rock stars in the gut, spraying the crowd with blanks from an AR-15, or distributing a hysterical missive on the issue of boredom in school on Department of Education letterhead.
If you want to check out a current Phoenix band who keeps some of the Feederz spirit alive, check out Button Struggler. Like the Feederz, Button Struggler features often disjointed, herky-jerky riffs similar to the noisy interplay of Discussion and Clear Bob with a barrage of vocals that would satisfy any Feederz fan. The band, like the Plug Uglies before them, and several others, help keep the spirit of Feederz alive and well.
Obviously, Frank Discussion gets most of the attention when it comes to the Feederz due to his tenure with the band and his outrageous behavior. Some might even consider Discussion's well-crafted mix of performance art, anti-propaganda, and overall punk rock-ness as something akin to the deranged antics of an attention starved opportunist, but after speaking to a good handful of his early scene peers, it is apparent Discussion is the real deal. You would have to be, though, to have the caliber of bandmates he had in the early days, especially in the late '70s and early '80s while the Feederz still called Phoenix home.
Discussion, Clear Bob, and Art Nouveau attacked the status quo with a vengeance, and the early recordings of the songs on Jesus are evidence of punk rock genius. Recorded at Gila Monster Studios under the watchful eyes and ears of David Albert for an Easter 1980 release on Anxiety Records, the songs on the EP itself are both catchy and angry, which is tougher to do than most non-punk musicians might realize.
"Working with Art Nouveau was great. He was a very good drummer, really smart and was really creative. In fact, the first real lineup of the [Feederz] was by far the best, in my opinion, and that was Art and Clear Bob," Discussion says.
When discussing the first Feederz release, the elephant in the room, of course, is the title track. "Jesus," which is one of the most infamous pieces of profane punk rock ever, is the track most people know about, but all four songs on the EP are great. "Stop You're Killing Me" is a manic rant about disappointment sung in a strange Muppet-like voice over a very Doug or Dan Clark-ish/Richard Bishop-y guitar line. In other words, it's a typical early Phoenix punk sound. The bouncy "Avon Lady" is a love song to the glamorous makeup purveyors in pink carried by Clark's bass and Nouveau's stagger-step rhythm, and "Terrorist" runs the gamut of fear, killing, and destruction while sounding like a conspicuous outtake from the British band Wire's first record, Pink Flag.
While "Jesus" may have been inspired by a walk with a tampon, according to Clear Bob, it was also inspired by some classic surf rock.
"Frank had the chorus going, you know, 'fucking you in the ass,' and we went over to my house one day and I had bought 'The Boss' by the Rumblers, a great surf record, and we play it and sure enough, here comes a song that I can't remember the name of anymore, but we just ripped off the bass line from that. Frank wrote another version because we thought, 'We can't do a stupid surf' song, but we went back to the surf riff," Clark says.
Note: The song they ripped off actually was the title track of the album Clark mentioned, "Boss" by the Rumblers, which came out in 1963.
Regardless of its origins, "Jesus" is not for the faint of heart. If you're easily offended by what many might consider blasphemy, you're not going to like it, but this was the type of reaction Discussion and the Feederz were gunning for when they wrote and eventually recorded the song. Either way, it sticks in your brain (thanks again, Rumblers) and you find yourself singing along to the chorus pretty easily, even for those aren't super-comfortable with what Discussion was singing.
"Jesus entering from the rear - (whoa oh oh)
Fucking you in the ass--
Just another faggot-- (whoa oh oh)
In just another mass"
While he "never was the greatest fan of Christianity," according to Discussion, he apparently did not intend the song "Jesus" to be homophobic either, although many, again, may disagree.
"Funny how during that period, I didn't run into one gay person or fag -- a gay who likes to shove his gayness down everybody's throats, whom of course I respected more -- that didn't get the fact that the song was about Christianity, not homosexuality. Well, except that Christians are notorious homophobes, and therefore it was fitting to portray their 2,000-year-old corpse god as gay," Discussion says.
Right or wrong, the song was also released on the kick-ass 1981 Alternative Tentacles compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans (which also featured great tracks by Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Flipper, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and many more). Placebo Records also re-released the entire EP in 1983 after label owner Tony Victor purchased the rights from David Albert after some drama between the engineer/producer and the band.
"The Feederz had their shit totally nailed," Albert recalls. "They came in and did each song with all instruments at the same time and then did vocals and very few overdubs because they had it all down so well and because Frank, who had final say-so on everything, wanted a very dry, unaffected mix. Frank did all the artwork and concept for the packaging. When I called the printer to see if the sleeves and bemusing poster/inserts were ready, I was informed that they refused to do the job."
After finding a print shop that would finish the job, it was tough going, at first, to find homes for the 500 seven-inch EPs.
"A little later that year, Frank had me sign the rights over to him at gunpoint," Albert says. "I did not honor that particular transaction and sold all the remaining pressings, etc., to Tony Victor, whom I had never met prior to that, for a less-than-break-even $500. Victor signed a contract indicating that Frank's final artistic say-so would remain honored. I was pretty much done with punk rock at that point."
Victor remembers, "I negotiated a buyout of the Feederz' 7-inch Jesus with Frank Discussion's help and blessing. The label, Anxiety [Records], had put it out originally. Bruce Demaree, a local attorney and friend of my uncle, assisted in the deal. At the time, the lyrics were so shocking that there were people who were literally afraid to touch the record for fear that it might damn their souls. Its level of offensiveness holds up better than most."
Interestingly enough, Discussion's version of this story is not dissimilar to Albert's. "Of course we never saw a penny. When it became obvious what he was doing we made him sign a retraction of the contract. He signed it, but then called the cops claiming we physically threatened him. But as you must know yourself, just about everybody in the 'industry,' big or small, are sleazy beyond words, and this earwig was no exception. When you deal with most of these 'people' -- and I'm using the term extremely loosely here -- you feel like you have to take a long shower after," Discussion says.
Almost 35 years later, it makes for an interesting anecdote in the annals of Arizona punk rock history. The Feederz haven't performed since 2007, but Discussion is still as confrontational as ever, and the spirit and power of their music remains influential to this day. New fans most likely discover the Feederz on a regular basis thanks to a song like "Jesus." Who knows? One day, Frank Discussion might decide to put a band together again. Dan Clark (Clear Bob) lives in Bisbee, where he still creates music and watches the wildlife around his home. John Vivier (Art Nouveau), sadly, has been dead for 32 years, and fans of his drumming can only wonder what might have been if he had lived even a decade longer.
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