At a time when the norms for punk behavior were being established, the Effigies were one of the first bands to disregard them -- because they were immaterial and just to be cantankerous. Their greatness (like other great bands of the era, say, Minor Threat, the Wipers and the Minutemen) is defined not just by their stylistic hallmarks, but by the mental framework beneath them.
Many bands of the era played ferociously, but few of them placed equal emphasis (as the Effigies did) on sophistication and (honestly) grace. While other bands were being sidetracked with arrogant and obvious political agendas and who's-more-punk one-ups-manship, the Effigies were playing invigorating music, which, despite earning them admirers like Jello Biafra and Metallica (who once offered them an opening slot on a tour), was inspirational and great.
Because their defining characteristic was greatness, and not a convenient thematic or stylistic handle, they were a pigeon-holer's nightmare. There was an element of lunkhead appeal to the band, but anyone writing them off as skinheads would have trouble explaining the homemade Crass stencils that appeared like a rash on Chicago after the impressionable proto-Effigies returned from a trip to England in 1979. They were called a hardcore band, but then what the hell was that disco beat doing in "Mob Clash," and why did Earl play those Arabian solos all the time? And who sold John those leather pants?
The Effigies have been compared by more than one smartypants to the Ruts, which makes pretty good sense until their singer died. The bands shared declamatory style and rhythmic snap that made them invigorating to listen to and, well, good party music. Unbelievable as it may be, before hip hop took over, Chicago clubs played Effigies records to get people dancing.
The Effigies played with a rare combination of thuggish power and self-conscious intellectualism that kept us all on our guard. They were instigators as well, starting a record label, setting up shows and providing access and outlets for nonconformist thought from many perspectives. Dozens of great records and hundreds of brilliant life-changing experiences wouldn't have been possible without them. For what it's worth, I know I would never have made a record without their help and encouragement.
As they matured, the Effigies pulled some boners. Nobody lasts that long without doing so. The very self-consciousness that liberated them from the by-numbers approach the punk formalists had established became a hindrance, and they tinkered unnecessarily with the elements that made them great. For a while there Steve had a Simmons pad (the drum synthesizer that goes "piewwww" in those Flock of Seagulls records your brother tried to talk you out of buying) and Earl played through a Roland Jazz Chorus, the hated "sound of fusion" amp.
In their day, though, nobody could touch them. One agitated syllable from John or one ripping chord from the bowels of Earl's Orange was enough to let anybody who cared know who was in charge. The Effigies were at the top of a very short list. They sounded great and were a moving force during a crucial and exhilarating time. There were damn few like them then and damn few of their caliber now.
In addition to being a fabulous punk band--that alone is cause for enduring respect--the Effigies were even more exciting for the way they effortlessly smashed the reigning misconceptions in the early '80's, of just what punk was all about or stood for. According to the pundits, and even some fanzines, American punk-- especially the best-known Southern California variety and its bastard son, hardcore--was the product of bored, pre-college, suburban youth, teens complaining about their parents and all authority figures from teachers to Ronald Reagan. But watching the Effigies storm through "Quota" at CBGB, or "Below the Drop" later at the Rock Hotel in New York, I saw a band that was all business, made of no-nonsense, urban, working class, all sweat and hard work types, mid-twenties, large-boned Midwestern-big buggers (the kind you don't needlessly mess with), with a penchant for harsh steely riffs. You could tell they were playing this sound 'cause it burned inside them.
We also heard that punk meant "anyone can play." Yet stunning, muscular tracks such as "Rather See None" (their zenith) and "Bodybag" indicated advanced musicianship, guts, balls and chops, as well as the required attitude and energy. Live, they were explosive.
Finally, if some people mistook punk for sophomoric self- absorption, anti-intellectualism, or snot-nosed whining, the Effigies gave them pause. Kezdy's gripping lyrics were delivered in an impassioned Malcolm Owen-ish (Ruts) growl, spewing reasoned, contemptuous, sarcastic barbs at endemic political corruption (particularly that in the band's hometown, Chicago) and a pick of modern stupidities and hypocrisies. His scathing look at mob psychology (inspired by the bizarre Nazi marches and countermarches in the Chicago area) in "Mob Clash" (another big favorite) remains a classic of lyrical insight into reactionary behavior.
When the Effigies came back from the grave for a few special
late '80's/early '90's shows, they proved how well their brand of
powerful big-guitar, smart-rock had lasted (not to mention their
later masterful post-punk albums, which also deserve re-issue).
They were a tremendous group, one of the best, brightest and
hottest of an inspired time, and I miss them.
I remember vividly the first time I saw two of the guys who would later become the Effigies. It was the early spring of 1980, and the occasion was a free show by a shitty band called A Minimal Graphic in the auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University on the northwest side. Northeastern Illinois University was significant because it housed the only radio station in Chicago that wasn't afraid to play punk rock. King of the hill at WZRD, at least as far as the future Effigies, my brother and I were concerned, was a guy named Terry Nelson. He did a show called "Sunday Morning Nightmare," named after the Sham 69 song. It was the kind of radio program that makes today's "alternative" puke sound like a badly told right-wing joke. He had talked up this particular concert quite a bit because his girlfriend's band was opening. As my brother and I sat through Da's set (quite good, thank you) these really seriously punk rock-looking guys stalked in and sat down. That summer we would come to know them as John Kezdy, Steve Economou, and long-time friend Jon Babbin, but for the moment we were so awestruck at finding some fellow punk rockers that it didn't even occur to us to strike up a conversation. They walked out after the headline band's first song, and we left during the second. But the connection had been made, and by the next fall both Strike Under and the Effigies had been formed.
For the next year or so the two bands hung out together,
inspired each other, pissed each other off, spurred each other on
and generally gave each other the sense of community that all of
those involved in revolutionary activities need. Strike Under
folded within that year, but the Effigies lasted the better part of
the decade, making music that sounds as fresh today as when it was
recorded. I could never portray in words the white hot excitement
of those days, but if you cock your ear while listening to this
disc. . . .
The Effigies would have been a paradox in any age: rockers who were streetwise, yet startlingly literate. During hardcore punk's heyday in the early '80's, the underground circuit was rife with music characterized by naive leftist proselytizing, near-fanatical stylistic adherence to an unwritten and often imaginary punk rulebook of "faster-and-louder-sans-melody," and an overstated, indignant pose that was more superficial suburban brat than passionate, vitriolic artist. The Effigies followed none of this-- they were undoubtedly far beyond hardcore punk's constraints. As primary forerunners of Chicago's underground music scene, they offered their listeners a real alternative to all that was hackneyed and morose in a post-punk era.
The Effigies weren't mindless iconoclasts like more than a few of their contemporaries. Their music was mature from the outset, mature in the sense that it boasted an uncanny frankness while maintaining an admittedly shrouded hopefulness that pandered to no one. While other bands narcissistically saw themselves as uncompromising pioneers on the largely barren plains of American rock, the Effigies were genuine trailblazers: four individuals, one modus operandi, a single goal, and an enthralling result. Yet they moved too fast for a majority of their followers.
Never complying to the vogues set by the self-appointed intelligentsia of the hardcore, they forged easily some of the most cerebrally assaultive rock music this continent has ever produced; starkly realist, elegantly harsh, and subtly innovative. Drummer Steve Economou and bassist Paul Zamost occasioned a terse rhythmic frenzy with an insistence on bending punk's conventional 4/4 approach which was far more enterprising than any of their contemporaries. Original guitarist Earl LeTiecq responded with shimmering, piercing bursts that tread ever so closely to metallic stubbornness yet remained overtly striking, often vanquishing the expected power chord in favor of dissonant harmonics to fuel the music's frequently anthemic stand. And vocalist/lyricist John Kezdy provided perhaps the most critical ingredient to why the Effigies were so significant: lucid, complex, lyrical portrayals resplendent with clashing metaphors, brooding tension, Orwellian awareness, and impressively learned content that pointedly shamed his mundane competitors in their attempts to pen meaningful songs. In an ideal world, the Effigies would have shamed much of underground into reevaluating its content and purpose.
There undoubtedly were many inconsequential bands during the hardcore era, rightly forgotten by a fickle music public. However, while overrated re-releases are today mistakenly lauded as important and widely influential, this reissue does not succumb to its relatively obscure status or lack of rock critic hype. Indeed, its importance is not to be underestimated, and likewise it should not be disregarded due to any rating of posthumous popularity. For no one imitated the Effigies--one won't hear their dropped by brazen uninformed dolts who shoot off their mouths in so-called alternative circles today--not because they were not worth emulating, but, on the contrary, because of the inability of most bands to produce a complete package of inventive, erudite, rugged, confrontational music. Whether in the austerity of "Quota," the brutal aural allegory of "Silent Burn," or the visceral impact of the blasting "Rather See None," the Effigies marked an undeniable high-water mark for American rock.
While other bands most often garnered accolades from fanzine hipsters, the Effigies were the bona fide Chicago sound, delivering a more artistically satisfying product than their Windy City compatriots. But to no avail. Unjustly, they remained an immense obscurity perhaps burdened by the hypocritical narrow-mindedness of hardcore's elite, or a toughened guise that entirely belied their loftiness. They were far too intimidating to the apathy of the mainstream and the obstinacy of punk's new orthodoxy. But as interest in bands contemporaneous with the Effigies, such as Husker Du, is reawakened, these recordings (as well as the equally outstanding second and third Effigies albums, "Fly On A Wire" and "Ink") should be duly noted as the remarkable works they are. Moreover, in these days in which substanceless, formulaic rock flourishes, and the rock subculture is tacitly bent on viewing the world through the distorting glasses of de rigueur liberalism, the Effigies' music is even more precious. The Effigies were realists, unlike other bands that just claimed to be. They followed the story where it led them.
So don't believe the fibbers who say simultaneously that they
were there in 1982 and then discount the Effigies, if they've any
knowledge of the band at all. To say so betrays ignorance. Just
indulge yourself in the rich fruits of this release and hope that
sometime soon underground rock can once again gain this sort of
May 5, 1994
King Rotten said it, "apres moi, le deluge." It's 1994, and we're left with the prophesied legacy of the Pistols, a landscape laid to waste by a flood of alternative music. I should have been happy about a flood of alternative music.
The pickin's are slim for rock fans these days. Fans of modern rock'n'roll, I mean - let's set the terms straight. When scruffy neuters drool on themselves and feign profundity to win fat recording contracts (the young CD-buying public demands stars, any star, without many questions) some people call that rock'n'roll. The market fills demands for these types - as it should. But for those few of you out there who like a little more meat with your potatoes and who find the new musical generation of droopy navel- gazing sludgescrapers all very dreary, contrived and, well, stupid, I tell you that there was a time when things were different. It was a time not long ago.
On a day about ten years ago Wendy, the love of my life, a girl too beautiful and too smart for me, and to whom I was always trying to catch up, in everything but drink, insisted we see a band from Chicago. She acted like she was onto something. Chicago hadn't exactly been on the front lines of the punk revolution at that point, and I wasn't exactly thrilled to make the short trip to New York for this.
A band took the stage. They were decidedly unglamorous. There wasn't much applause, but the initiated went on the alert. The group ripped into its first number. The Effigies were loud, tight and in control. They flipped a switch, and people I hadn't noticed before lurched towards the stage and then launched out individually to spread mayhem in the audience. The band played blocks of three to five songs seamlessly, then stop to dead silence. Little talk from the stage. Then, more. Four guys crashing through the void by kicking up more noise. There was a desperate energy there, getting tapped, re-created, and transmitted again.
Wendy loved it. She knew that behind the fury there was something else moving - a complicated center hidden by crude simplicity. But it really was all there for anyone who wanted to dig - songs about love, death, and the simple failure of people to do better.
Wendy dumped me, and I never saw her again. Later I moved to Chicago and became a better person for it.
I saw a lot of Effigies shows and even made it to a show back east at Maxwell's in the late '80's. People I hadn't seen out in years were at that show. But the silence eventually swallowed the Effigies, as it did other great bands of that era. The noise lives on this CD.
Rock - what's left of it - is pushing fast towards bottom. It
won't be long now until someone starts the next revolt. You'll
recognize it when it comes. The music will be by bands like the
Effigies, oblivious to the masses, strapping guitars, making their
own songs, playing loudly, unselfconsciously, in cramped clubs, for
little money, for fanatics that scream lyrics, look desperate and
demand too much of life. . . and for girls like Wendy, who stand
against the back wall and, in the din, look intensely at something
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