Geek Enablers 

When is a punk collective a business, too?

Sometime in the '80s, when punk was really seeping out into the suburbs as young miscreants played "I saw your mommy and your mommy's dead!" loud enough to ruffle Ma in her Care Bears sweatshirt two rooms away, Donahue had a show with some punk rockers on it. "Blah blah authority, blah blah rules," they spouted.

The audience hated them, saying stuff like "you have no shame." While the audience went on and on about the decline of Western civilization at the hands of Jello Biafra, most enlightened TV watchers could only see one thing: The punks were just like the hippies -- bein' bashed for marching to a different bongo. "What did you do to your hair?" was the same as "Get a haircut!" The funny thing was, most punks hated hippies, and punks' New York roots came from an exact about-face to everything the hippies stood for. Peace? "Let's wear swastikas!" Loose-fitting clothes and flowers? "I'll sew myself into my pants every morning, and who cares if the cat pissed on my jacket!" (Actually, hippies stank too.)

Since punk was so anti-hippie, isn't it funny that PC punks operate out of a communal approach to the music: Us vs. Them (the Man); indie is God, corporations are Satan; no hierarchy, we're all in the same pit, man. All of this is not to say that there is something wrong with belonging to a collective, or a commune, or any of that stuff if you are punk. 'Tis merely ironic; that's all. So when you find out that Oakland's SPAM Records is a collective, don't go assuming that they are into daisy chains. Sure, you'll find some gentle people there, but these guys aren't even really punks -- they're geeks.

SPAM (or Smarmy Post-Angst Musicians) was started in '96 by three pals since the fourth grade, Corbett Redford, Dylan McPuke, and John Geek (use of fake names being one arena in which punk truly surpassed hippiedom). Now the collective has around twenty members who all help out with distribution, packaging, recording, promoting, and all the things associated with having a label and small

press. They are the creative and wacky geeks behind bands like the Fleshies, Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggets, Los Rabbis, Blast Rocks, Dory Tourette and the Skirtheads, and myriad others. Like Ipecac, SPAM puts out a wide variety of stuff, from pop punk to straight-up hoochiecore like Gravy Train -- though pretty much all of the bands have a love of the absurd in some form. Usually these acts can be seen performing at the Stork or Burnt Ramen in Richmond. These days, they also can be found manufacturing buttons that say "Osama, You So Crazy!" and putting out a mag called Bad Smut, full of people attempting frottage with ostriches and fence posts.

Redford describes the collective's roots thusly: "We were all living in Pinole and we couldn't play Gilman because they said we weren't punk. We couldn't take out an ad in MRR because they said we weren't punk. ... We were thrashfunk and silly folk I suppose." So they went DIY, and the motley crew was formed. First they moved into a warehouse originally occupied by the music merchandise machine known as Cinderblock, but then -- irony of all ironies -- this group of people who were rejected for not being punk, were kicked out of their space for being too punk. "These were the people who lived in the MRR house when Thurston Moore lived there, while Tim Yo was still alive. These people were like, 'get out of here, you're punk. I'm tired of punk, punk has done nothing for me.'"

The members of SPAM are completely fine with not fitting into other people's defined categories. Basically, they're a hodgepodge of freaks who all have different interests and things going on. Dylan McPuke gets excited when he discusses the SPAM rock opera, Stalin Clause Superstar: A Suplecs Prune Hittite Fantasy. This tour-de-force is based on the idea that "age doesn't cause wrinkles, wrinkles cause you to age and die." He who gets the magic Retin-A emollient cheats death. The opening scene involves a battle for supremacy between black metal bands and indie bands on the face of Capt. Lou Albano, after his beard is turned into their swarms via a magic-but-evil cream slipped to him by some trickster. The opera is a long, long, long multi-CD experience, and weirdly wonderful. There aren't too many labels that spend years writing rock operas just fer the heck of it, but welcome to the norky world of SPAM.

"SPAM isn't really a label," says Redford. "It's much more of an 'enabler,' if you will, or even a gaggle of bitter little men with bitter little plans." Corb is quick to point out that there are also some bitter little women on board. Each member of the outfit helps out as best they can to keep the organization afloat, doing accounting, promoting, and planning ... which begs the question, what's the difference between having a collective and having a business? "One of the ultimate goals of SPAM is to have a fortress of solitude," says Redford. "Here's my hidden agenda: to have a Justice League of Amerika. To celebrate everybody ... with video games, a place for the magazine, a place where people can learn martial arts and grow a garden, a place where people can promote their art and maybe even learn how to live better."


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