Meet Johnny Angel, a veteran of the Boston Punk Scene, he is something of a punk rock renaissance man. Johnny Angel, in addition to fronting the Thrills with Barbara Kitson (later known as City Thrills), The Swinging Erudites, and the Blackjacks, is a radio host and a published author of two fiction novels Looking For Lady Dee and the upcoming In This Darkness, I Disappear.
Johnny Angel Wendell as told to Ms. Moneynine
JAW: So what did my peers from there and then tell you to ask me?
MM: Well, they’re actually my fellow 50thirdand3rd bloggers (Ben and Stephen as well as Acts of Vandalism’s Jimmy Stagger check out his great posts on the Boston Punk Scene here!) who grew up in Boston hearing about the Rat wanted me to ask you about Swinging Erudites!
MM: We’re big fans of your stirring rendition of Yesterday!
JAW: I had seen Buster Poindexter in NYC, maybe the end of 83? Came back and thought it would be fun to do that. Like play old jazz and R/B tunes I knew a lot of them–actually know a lot of jazz chords. So, I asked my friend James Ryan if he’d sing. We played the balcony of the Rat, early 84 “Misty”, “Girl From Ipanema” Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong songs. Anyway, we were getting more and more trashed on free booze and we did get to the Beatles ballad. Why I made into a Bad Brains thing, no idea, but we did. People loved it! And then it started evolving and getting longer and longer Reggae, Waltz, free jazz, Irish Jigs. All “Yesterday” And all because I’d call out the motifLike “OK, it’s REM time” And we’d do it like REM, off the cuff. Jangling chords, that beat they used and James stuffed his shirt in his mouth to mumble like Stipe did! To “Yesterday”. It was so atrocious. Buster was trying to be serious, We were drunk clowns but we developed this weird ethos.
See, everything in the 80’s was so straight. Repudiation of the 60’s. No irreverence. Everyone so patriotic! Joyless! So, we figured if everyone else wanted to “rule”, we wanted to suck because it would be more memorable. And everything was spontaneous. Like “what would “Little Green Apples” sound like done by Sonic Youth”? So, we did it! Unrehearsed, like an improv thing. Bar patrons just hated us. Bar employees loved us. We cracked them up. Fucking with the punters in our suits. This faux smarminess, this oleaginous bullshit act. Naturally, the thing succeeded and ruined us.
We had women in the band and they were tired of singing “Our Lips Are Sealed” (the nether lips being the joke) The song was old. So, they wanted something else. The girl band of the day was the Bangles “Manic Monday”, I could do nothing with. Can’t one-up Prince. So, they had a new song about a walking Egyptian or whatever. I’d never heard it and suggested remaking it as “Walk With An Erection”, based on the title. The girls loved it! So, I sat down and wrote out all these dumb cock jokes and made a parody of the tune. It got played once at 7:30 one night on the city’s rock station–terrible guitar, bad whistling and “hard on hard on, beg my pardon, walk with an erection”–12 hours later they had 600 requests to hear it again. It developed a life of its own. Charted in 4 countries.
JAW: But it wrecked me as a “serious musician” there. I would forever be a comedian. And I was sick of Boston anyway, so in 1989, bye. Funny thing is, Swinging Erudites were like a vengeance thing. Promoters dealing with a pain in the ass band would put us on to fuck with the audience. Richard Hell, Rollins–they got the treatment. Richard and Henry both were absolutely livid!
MM: That’s fantastic!
JAW: How can you follow Village People medleys, 25 minutes of Yesterday and “Theme From Jesus Christ Superstar” with Run DMC rap? We were relentless. So determined to clear the place. Joe from Pop-O-Pies and I have compared notes, they were doing the same thing with “Truckin’”. We were so stupid. Just an insult. And deliberate. My “real” band hated that act.
MM: I can’t imagine how anyone could hate on something so beautifully twisted.
JAW: Because it was an affront to “hard working musicians”
MM: The dreaded stink of parody.
JAW: Oh yeah.
To be continued…
Big thank you to Jimmy, Ben, and Stephen, and especially to Mr. Johnny Angel! Smut and Politics is out on Bandcamp!