by Casey Welsch
The paper slides across the plastic, the plastic rests on rubber, diamond scratches the plastic and the music plays. That’s the way it used to happen, and that’s what’s happening in front of me right now. The song is 20 years old, but brand new to me. A little 7-inch disc connects me to Nebraska’s musical past.
I’ve been writing about local musicians and reviewing their albums for about four years, and I like to think I’ve seen some pretty good bands come and go. Columbia vs. Challenger, Mucho Güt, Black Hundreds, Knots, Spring Gun, The Balance, Mr. 1986, Eagle Seagull, I’ve seen them all, but never again. They were all “the greatest things I’ve ever seen” when they were around, but now they’re all gone, and they're talked about less with every passing year.
Like most people of my generation, I’m spoiled and apprised of an undue sense of worth and entitlement. I have long assumed that the been-and-gone local greats that I’ve seen were the best that ever were. I assumed that the current wave of creativity in Nebraska was a brand new thing, unique to our time.
Hidden in the back of the bottom shelf of a knee-level cupboard blocked by an empty filing cabinet with a television and a boombox on top, I found a stack of records buried at 90.3 KRNU that proved me dead wrong.
Twenty-four 7-inches, all of them local, all of them from at least a decade ago. And I’m the first person to listen to them in maybe 10 years. A 1992 song called “Don’t Follow” by a band I don’t know called Frontier Trust on an Omaha label I don’t know called One Hour Records spills out of the speakers, the first of many to come, and already I’m impressed.
This was classic '90s punk, from the 90s! It was local, too, and better than any of the modern bands still trying to hold on to that sound. I flip the record and the punk gives way to a kind of country rock, and that seems to be a theme for a lot of these records. I guess it makes sense, here. It turns out Frontier Trust is Gary Dean Davis' old band. He now fronts Wagon Blasters and SPEED! Nebraska records. I still don't know when or how One Hour Records fits in there for him. (Editor's note: Maybe a reader can help.)
Next up is more frontier punk from the Monroes on SPEED! Nebraska (it's all going to be connected, I can feel it) called “Inferno,” then Red Max on Ismist Records (another one I’ve never heard of) with an entertaining, over-the-top 1996 punk single titled “Voodoo Liquor Hot Rod.” It's exactly what it sounds like, and I’m noticing even more of a trend.
This stuff is all turning out to be pretty good. More Frontier Trust is followed by more punk from Clayface (never heard of ‘em) and Mercy Rule (finally a familiar name). And each record seems to trump the previous in terms of volume, songwriting and timelessness. Labels like Caulfield, Pravda and Lumber Jack were putting out fantastic rock in the '90s, but I’ve never heard of them, or any of these bands, for that matter. I've never heard anyone talk about any of this. Maybe I'm just hanging out at the wrong bars.
"Why?" I ask myself as I switch out Molly McGuire (goth rock from Kansas City on a long-gone Lincoln label) for Mineral (Austin emo rockers on Lincoln's Caulfield label, which was largely responsible for the "Midwest Sound" of emo in the '90s). This stuff is all really good. Why haven't I heard of it before? Why has no one told me about these bands and these labels? I don’t think I would forget about this stuff if I were hearing it at the same age about 20 years ago. Whatever happened to Eamon (who once opened for Fugazi at a UNL show in '94 or '95) or Giants Chair or the Starkweathers or Faye Records? Comment below if you have any idea what I’m talking about, because I don’t.
Lullaby for the Working Class is a name I’ve heard, but whose music I haven’t. I expected working class punk, but what I got was gorgeously crafted indie-folk tunes from the mid-'90s, long before the current national craze. This band featured Ted Stevens (Cursive), Shane Aspegren (The Berg Sans Nipple) and both of the infalible Mogis brothers. That's where I've seen the name, mentioned in passing on one of these band's profile sites. That's all the attention I've ever given the band, and all I've ever seen given to it, yet it's good enough to deserve its own exhibit in a museum. This is Nebraska's musical history. It never got across to me until this point.
Eric the Red (no idea) and Sideshow (possibly the reason this Caulfield lable existed?) continue the trend of fantastic rock. Nothing in this pile is bad. Absolutely nothing. It keeps coming with Plastik Trumpet (no info), Cellophane Ceiling and Opium Taylor (I know one of these guys helped found Liars). It would be a moot point to describe them all in detail, but believe me when I say it’s all just as good as anything Nebraska is pumping out today.
Had I been doing what I do now when all this was new, I’d be honored to interview these musicians and promote these labels and rock these songs on the radio. I’d like to think that people will still talk about bands I’ve seen and known 20 years down the line, but maybe that's just a dream. If people have already started to forget these great bands, maybe I'll forget my old favorites someday, too.
Maybe that’s what local music is: All of these tunes definitely reflected musical trends of their day, while still defining a local sound. They seem memorable. Yet, time leaves them little mention.
Sre, the small acts might fade with the years and remain forgotten until some punk finds them in a hidden closet somewhere. But no matter what, be it Mercy Rule in 1992 or Mucho Güt in 2008, Nebraska’s music is perfect for its time and place. These plastic records are also historic records, infinitely more informative than some decades-old article, photo or blog post. Forgotten? Maybe. Important? Sure. Worth remembering? Definitely.
Even if I end up forgetting Spring Gun and CvC somewhere down the line, at least I know that they have some albums circulating that will keep their memory alive for someone out there. That’s what this scene is doing. It’s good while it lasts and when it’s gone, it’s perhaps gone for good.
Except for that one little record. And paper slides across the plastic, the plastic rests on rubber, diamond scratches the plastic and the music plays.
(Editor's note: What do you know about these bands? Tell us in the comments below. And discover something new for yourself by downloading full albums from many of these and other dead Nebraska bands at TheBandBrokeUp.com.)
Casey Welsch is an editorial intern at Hear Nebraska. He is also the music director at 90.3 KRNU. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.