Column 166 — Punk Rock Revival; what I’m missing…

Category: Blog — @ 9:00 am March 26, 2008

I could easily have written 3,000 words based on interviews conducted for this week’s column and still not have scratched the surface of what was the Omaha punk rock scene circa ’85-’88. It’s history begs to be recorded, and hopefully will be moving forward. Tim Cox tells me that Saturday’s show could be the first of an annual event — certainly there’s enough interest — and enough surviving bands — to do it for years to come. The specifics: The show is Saturday night at The Waiting Room. It starts at 7 p.m. and will cost you a measly $5. There’s no excuse not to go. Well, almost no excuse….

Column 166: More Punk Than You
Omaha’s original punk legends gather again.
The idea of the Omaha ‘My Generation’ Punk Rock Reunion Show (this Saturday night at The Waiting Room) began with a couple former neighbors talking about the good ol’ days.

Those neighbors were Tim Cox, drummer for ’80s-era punk rock band R.A.F., and the girls that lived next door, Dee Shelton and Meghan Smith. They lived in an apartment building that came to be known as The Farnam House, a place notorious for its ad hoc punk rock shows.

Here’s the funny part — The Farnam House was located right across the street from The Brothers at 38th and Farnam, a building that today is known as Hotel Frank, home of the best house shows in town hosting bands like Capgun Coup and Baby Walrus.

Somehow, Cox and those neighbor girls got in touch with each other 23 years after the fact. “We got to talking about James Widmark, a local artist who was in the Sleez Kangs who had passed away a few years ago,” said Cox from his current home in a much quieter neighborhood just off West Blondo. “Meghan mentioned we should get everyone together before we all die. We’re all getting older, and we’ve lived wild lives.”

Their small talk spawned the idea of hosting a gathering of survivors of Omaha’s ’80s punk scene at The Brothers. Cox thought that maybe R.A.F. could play a reunion show. After all, everyone else in the band — guitarist Paul Moerke, bassist Dereck Higgins, and vocalist Matt Miller — was still alive.

To help find people they knew from the old scene, Shelton and Smith put together a Myspace page. That’s when things really began to pick up speed.

Through a fluke conversation, Cox discovered that one of his co-workers at Fedex/Kinko’s was related Jack Hawk, a guitarist for peace-punk thrash-core band Cordial Spew along with Kevin McClay. “Kevin’s an insurance salesman now, a big-wig regional guy,” Cox said. Before long, McClay, Hawk and the rest of the original Cordial Spew line-up — frontman Jay Bacon, drummer Conrad Hinz and bassist Bryan Gumm — were added to the reunion show.

So were local punk legends Apathy and Double-You. Cox decided to push the idea even further by including current-day punk bands The Deformities, The Upsets, Pornhuskers and J.J. Pearson (ex Toxic Reasons) and His Weapons of Ass Destruction.

“The show became a chance to show the kids who never got to see us what these original bands were all about, while letting the old-schoolers see the new stuff,” Cox said.

Such a large lineup called for a larger venue. Other than halls and house shows, the only other gathering spot for punk rock in the mid- to late-’80s was The Lift Ticket Lounge (remember, this was years before The Cog Factory). “From ’86 to ’89, The Lift Ticket became a constant place to play,” Cox said. “It was almost a punk club.” Where better to host the reunion show than at the very site where The Lift Ticket used to be?

It all sounded great except for one thing: Remembering how to play all those old songs. Cox said Apathy’s Mike Homan had to buy a bass for the show — he literally hadn’t picked one up since his grad school days.

“We haven’t played together in 20 years,” said Apathy guitarist Jim Homan, who along with vocalist Seth “Deth” Kirshman (Snakey Billy), and drummer Mark Blackman (Bad Luck Charm) — make up Apathy’s original lineup

Cox said no one in Cordial Spew even owned any instruments. “Conrad stopped playing drums 15 years ago,” said Spew vocalist Jay Bacon. “Tim (Cox) gave us a basement for our first practice, and it was awful.”

Fortunately, Jim Homan, who also happens to be one of the city’s best recording engineers at Ware House Studios, made a copy of Spew’s old cassette tapes, which helped Bacon and the band remember the songs.

The show has all the makings of historical event. Fact is, the history of Omaha’s early punk scene and its influence on what came after is impossible to capture in a 900-word column. At its very center is a story of a bunch of misfits who didn’t seem to belong in a Cold War, Reaganomics-driven world spiraling out of control.

“It was a time when everyone hung out together — the straight-edge and party kids, the peace punks and skinheads,” Cox said. “We all got along.”
Eventually, they all grew up, got married, went to college or got jobs. “For a lot of them, the scene was just a phase of life,” Cox said. “But we all still love the music and have fond memories of those days.”

Bacon agreed. “The music and the words still mean a lot to me,” he said. “I think the kids are ready to hear it. They haven’t heard thrash hardcore the way we do it.” For Cordial Spew, the reunion could be the beginning of a second life. The band already is slated to play a River Concert Series gig May 7 and will be distributing copies of a new CD at Saturday’s show.

“We’re all adults with kids and responsibilities,” Bacon said. “We’re not touring; we’re just trying to share the music again.”

He said that while times have changed, the music and its angry message are as relevant as ever. There’s just one problem: “When I’m doing the songs, I feel the anger, but there I am, standing in a room surrounded by people I love. It’s hard to get mad. I have to go to a different place when I sing and remember the things that pissed me off.”

Too bad I won’t be there to see it. I’ll be in New York City through the weekend on R&R (if anyone has any NYC suggestions, I’ve got the daylight hours on Thursday and Friday to kill and I’ll be hanging around the Gramercy Park area). Among the shows I’ll miss while I’m gone are Darren Keen Wednesday at The Waiting Room; Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle and McCarthy Trenching Thursday at TWR; Headlights Friday at TWR; and Jens Lekman Friday at Slowdown. If anything musicwise happens in NYC, I’ll post it on here. Have a good week.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.


  • Just wanted you to get your facts a little straighter. Dee Shelton and Meghan Smith never lived at the Farnam Street house. I lived there when I was 17, and it was me (Ellene McClay -formerly Ellene Wright), Kelly Coughlin, Laura Patee, and Alice LaPointe.
    Also, I’m now married to Kevin McClay, the guitarist for Cordial Spew, and he is not an insurance salesman. He works in media research in downtown Omaha.

    Comment by ellene — March 30, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  • Holy shit~! You married Kevin?
    Good on ya.
    Anyway, I’ll back up E’s statement. I lived at Farnum and it Laura, Kelly, Alice, Me, Ellene.
    Meghan though, practically lived there. So I can understand the confusion.

    Thanks for leaving me out E….:)

    Taataa…and so sorry I missed the show.


    Comment by Tracy — March 31, 2008 @ 4:44 am

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