Aug. 1 2020
During my mid teens I was turned on to 70’s punk rock by a teacher at my high school and had a musical epiphany that was akin to a religious experience. I remember the day clearly: slipping the cassette tape into a little ghetto blaster in my brother’s room (I think mine was broken) and hearing the Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, the Adverts and the Avengers. A primal fire rose up inside of me and tore through all of my insecurities and self pity and left me feeling strong, free and with an unshakable will. Over the years I’ve explored a lot of different subcultures: black metal, dark ambient, electro industrial, old school goth and more. But 70’s punk is my one true love whose embrace I return to time and time again.
About 20 years later I was in Audiophile on Commercial Drive and saw a unique looking album resting on the display shelves above the record bins. The ‘DEATH’ logo in perspective lettering was shooting out from the top of a cityscape in retro reds, oranges and yellows on stark black. I asked the guy working there if he’d heard it and he told me the story of how an old demo tape was discovered in the attic of one of the members and this pre-punk gem was released 34 years after the fact. I was like, woa I gotta check this out.
I brought the record home and unsealed it from it’s shiny wrapping, something I didn’t do very often as I usually bought used records. I ran my hands along it’s glossy cover and carefully took out the pristine slice of vinyl. As the first track ‘Keep on Knocking’ started pulsing through my speaker I was this is fucking amazing. Then ‘Rock and Roll Victim’ started to play and I was like holy shit what is this?? I felt that same electric jolt I did on that day I hovered over the little boom box in the mid 90’s. I listened to the entirety of the album and then listened to the entire thing again immediately following. It cut through my bones into my soul and set it on fire!
It turns out one of the first ‘punk’ bands ever comprised of three “black blood brothers playing rock and roll” from Detroit who never got their record out cause they refused to change their name from ‘Death’ to something more palatable. Fuck ya!
The complexity and depth of Death’s music puts them in a bit a category of their own, similar to artists like the Rezillos, X-Ray Spex and Stiff Little Fingers, who got lumped into the 70’s punk genre and embodied the spirit but stand on their own as totally unique musical entities. Punk in the purest sense of the word, unspoiled by Henry Rollins and his gym shorts and so many other artists that codified the genre as it became more defined in the 80's.
I had a chance to see the reformed Death play live in Vancouver, and even though the main founder David Hackney had passed away, I felt the same spirit of the album during the show and went berserk dancing along to the tracks that I grew to love so dearly through prolific overplaying. I managed to pick up the last of the 70’s style t-shirts they had, which was XXL, though I eventually altered it to fit me. I found it today when I was going through a random box.
I still get goosebumps when I hear the album!
Happy Emancipation Day!