When Steven McDonald sees bell-bottom teens parading down L.A.'s Melrose strip, he can't help but feel responsible. After all, his band Redd Kross was the pioneer in resurrecting misbegotten Seventies music and elephant-leg flares. And now with the current wave of Me Decade nostalgia, it seems fad and fashion have finally caught up with Redd Kross.
Bands today acknowledge--even brag about--their Seventies inspirations. Jellyfish can be found in the rock press professing admiration for Queen, while the Black Crowes freely admit that their record is nothing more than Exile on Main Street--the Sequel. And on the disco circuit, Deee-lite owes its success more to its hideously hip platforms and hot pants than it does to its state-of-the-art house sound.
"I don't mind that these bands have sort of jumped on our bandwagon," assures McDonald in a telephone interview from his L.A. home. "But I think it's sad if they're using the Seventies as a gimmick rather than it being a sincere love of a certain period or kind of music."
Redd Kross has never been less than sincere in its glorification of Seventies rock 'n' roll. Although its 1980 snot-punk debut got the thirteen-year-old Steven and his sixteen-year-old brother Jeff lumped in with Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and the rest of the SoCal hard-core scene, the McDonald bros always considered their band to be a proud product of the Seventies. "We found ourselves in the early Eighties becoming disillusioned with the whole punk movement," recalls Steven McDonald. "Punk had become just as ridiculous on a different level as the whole hard-rock-Seventies-megasuperstar thing had been. And the truth was that there were a lot of really good Seventies bands that influenced us just as much as any punk band ever did."
It was about a decade ago that Redd Kross began seriously studying up on its Watergate-era rock 'n' roll. While they were busy scouring used-record bins for old Suzi Quatro albums, Jeff and Steven were also hunting down garish Seventies threads at the Salvation Army. "We tried to find stuff that Peter Brady might've worn," notes McDonald. But the premature Seventies revival Redd Kross launched turned off a lot of people. "There was a complete Seventies backlash at this time," explains McDonald. "I think it was due to bands like Rush and Bread and America. They sort of ruined the decade for everyone else. So it became our crusade to show people that you couldn't write off an entire decade for the faults of a few."
In line with its quest to defend the integrity of Seventies rock, Redd Kross has covered the likes of the Stooges ("Ann"), Kiss ("Deuce"), and the Brady Bunch ("Sunshine Day") on various albums. The band has also penned paeans to several trash-culture icons from the decade. Redd Kross is particularly fascinated with fallen teen starlets like Mackenzie (One Day at a Time) Phillips and puke-spewing Exorcist actress Linda Blair. The band has honored Blair with no less than two tributes, on 1984's Teen Babes From Monsanto and 1982's Born Innocent, the title of which was taken from the immortal TV movie that had the pug-nosed star being raped with a broomstick.
McDonald explains that trash TV filled a cultural void during his boyhood. "There's little government funding for the arts, no importance placed on them," he asserts. "So the only culture a kid has growing up is TV."
"Elephant Flares," from the band's latest album, Third Eye, has a greasy-haired heroine that McDonald says was inspired by Mod Squad/Twin Peaks star Peggy Lipton. Another standout from the new album is "Zira (Call Out My Name)," which sounds like your ordinary broken-heart tune until you realize that the love object is none other than the she-ape from the Planet of the Apes saga: "I know one day that she'll be mine/Poor Cornelius--he'll be crying."
When compared to past Kross releases, Third Eye has a cleaner, more poppy sound--less Kiss than Bay City Rollers. This might have something to do with the album's producer Michael Vail Blum, who engineered Madonna's Like a Prayer. But the slicker setting is all the better to hear the band's glistening harmonies, which in the past often got buried beneath the grunge. Making the choruses even sweeter is guest back-up singer Susan Cowsill of the Sixties feel-good pop band.
Third Eye also contains the closest thing to a theme song Redd Kross has ever come up with, "1976." This strutting glam number manages to both celebrate and slam the era of "tube-top mommas" and "gasoline lines." The song was written for the upcoming movie Spirit of '76, which stars the McDonald brothers along with their lifelong idol David Cassidy.
Spirit of '76 was made to cash in on the Seventies revival, but McDonald is positive Redd Kross will outlive this trendy nostalgia. In fact, he'd bet his collection of Bobby Sherman fan club buttons on it.
"After ten years together, you can't call us a fad," argues McDonald. "The fact that we happen to wear bell-bottoms doesn't matter as much as the fact that we make good music. I think when it's all said and done, that's what people will remember. Nobody wants to be remembered for starting this whole Seventies equivalent of Sha Na Na."
Redd Kross will perform at the Sun Club on Tuesday, January 15, and Wednesday, January 16. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Jeff and Steven were hunting down garish Seventies threads at the Salvation Army. "We tried to find stuff that Peter Brady might've worn."
McDonald is positive Redd Kross will outlive this trendy nostalgia. In fact, he'd bet his collection of Bobby Sherman fan club buttons on it.