“I’d rather be infamous than famous, and I’d rather be respected than rich”: In which we tribute to the destructo-rock guitarist, who died of a sudden heart attack last week. A memorial service takes place on Sunday, May 18, at 3pm at Charlotte’s Tremont Music Hall.
BY FRED MILLS, WITH LARRY KAY
The date was May 19, 1984—I know, because I still have a flyer from the show—and it was definitely not business as usual at the Yellow Rose, a slightly dingy blue-collar bar located on Tyvola Road on Charlotte’s south side. The patience of the joint’s regulars, comprising aging alkies, hirsute bikers, dusty construction workers and sundry tattooed girlfriends, had already been tested by the antics of the Spinal Tappish Jeff Leopard and hardcore thrashers Social Savagery. Now, finally lumbering onto the tiny stage were headliners AntiSeen, who’d drawn an unruly 200-plus crowd of skinheads, mohican-coiffed punks and metal fans.
And yours truly, a resident of Charlotte for less than a year. I was still trying to figure out where I fit into the city’s musical scene, which at the time could charitably be described as “unfocused,” a semi-random collection of bands, (fanzine geeks and writers such as myself), and record store habitués, with no particular genre or hipsterish trend dominating the locale. (This was partly due to the lack of college radio and the concurrent lack of any supportive media, as the daily newspaper at the time feasted on the likes of Bob Seger and Billy Joel and treated “punk” like a four-letter word.) I was instinctively drawn to Antiseen, however, because in their hi-nrg, primal skronk I heard the type of underground sonic fuck-you that had always appealed to me. Back to the Yellow Rose:
The band abruptly lurches into action, a cement mixer on steroids churning forth ugly, distorted barre chords, guttural vocal growls courtesy singer Jeff Clayton, and intestinal-rumble bottom end. The audience, likewise, revs into spin cycle. By the second song guitarist Joe Young’s mic stand is a twisted wreck; by the third, a similar fate has befallen the bassist’s stand; tonight, “destructo rock” is more than just a colorful term Antiseen slaps onto gig flyers – it’s an action verb.
Meanwhile, there’s this little matter of blood. Lots of it, actually.
“That was the first time I saw Jeff ‘juice himself,’ as pro wrestlers might put it, and I had no idea he was gonna do it,” Young would recall to me nearly 20 years later. “First, there had been a guy throwing cups at the stage. Then I think Jeff saw this girl in the front row, maybe she was with somebody, and it made him so mad he busted a Gatorade bottle, gouged himself in the head, then started slinging his head from side to side. I don’t know whether it was the loss of blood or from slinging, but he collapsed on the side of the stage! At the end of the song I walked over and kicked him in the side. He finally opened his eyes, and I said, ‘Man, are you gonna finish or do we have to take you to the hospital?’ He got up and said, ‘Naw, I’m all right, let’s finish.’ And we did it. He had blood on every square inch of his face. There was blood on the ceiling, blood on the right of the stage, the left – he slung blood in 20 feet every direction! I’m sure nobody had ever seen anything like that.”
Boy howdy to that. From ’83 to ’92 I lived in Charlotte and was honored to call both Young and Clayton friends. Many was the time when I wrote about their band, both as a national freelancer and as the first Music Editor of alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing (which debuted in 1987, finally providing the local music and arts scenes with an empathetic voice). Meanwhile, Young proved his musical mettle in other ways, doing occasional freelance pieces for CL which found us working closely together on a number of projects—one favorite: a cover story with the somewhat unwieldy title “Rock’s 100 Greatest Intro Guitar Riffs Of All Time”—and catching numerous concerts together. We bonded in particular over our shared love for Bruce Springsteen, and one of his favorite stories to tell was about the night he closed the record store he was working at early because Springsteen was in town for a pair of concerts and turned up at the store to shop for cassettes.
The occasion of my 2003 interview with Young, along with a concurrent interview with Clayton, was to mark the band’s 20th anniversary in a profile for my old newspaper, and it was also an opportunity to catch up with the boys from Brutalsville, who had continued to record and tour, additionally working with the likes of GG Allin and Blowfly and never, ever compromising their sound or their rebel flag-flying aesthetic. Young also got involved with politics in his home town of Lenoir (near Charlotte), first running for the NC House Of Representatives in 2000 on the Libertarian ticket and then the following year for the Lenoir City Council.
I would correspond with him from time to time after that 2003 conversation, but sadly we never had much opportunity to hang out like during my Charlotte tenure. Upon hearing of his sudden heart attack last week (on the morning of April 30, at his southwest Charlotte home) at the age of 54, I was absolutely stunned, as Joe had never succumbed to the sort of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that typically fells musicians. He seemed to get his rocks off purely from cranking out the barre chords.
There’s plenty of AntiSeen material out there on the web if you are interested in exploring the band; there’s even a book about the band, AntiSeen: Destructo Maximus, edited by Clayton along with Larry Kay and Leslie Goldman, and published by Steel Cage Books. So I don’t need to recap the group’s career here, and I certainly won’t speculate on its future either, although I personally can’t imagine an AntiSeen minus the Young guitar sound, which was as integral as the Clayton voice. In 2003 Clayton himself outlined the unique chemistry he and the guitarist had, saying, “I’m not going to tell you it’s all easy. But I’m starting to think it’s a mixture of us both coming from the same influence. If we hear anyone putting down the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, I mean, we’re ready to fight. And both of us growing up with Alice Cooper and KISS, and then our love for the more traditional country artists. We’re both coming from the same place, and even though we may have gone off in different directions as we got older, I think we both know what we gotta do to make Antiseen tick – and we do it. There had been times when I maybe thought that Joe’s limitations were holding me back; then we’d go into the studio, or have a particularly great show together, and you realize that’s Joe’s strength, and the band’s identity, that keeps us sounding like us and nobody else. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
What follows below is culled from my original ‘03 interview transcript—most of which has never been published, along with significant portions of an interview Larry Kay conducted with Joe for the AntiSeen book, also in 2003. I did my interview with him over the phone on April 1 of that year, and he spoke to me from his family’s flower shop in Lenoir. (For reasons of clarity and continuity I have mixed my and Kay’s quotes together.) Kay and I conferred last week and decided we wanted to pay tribute to Joe in the hopes that people will remember him as among the purest of music lovers as well as a stand-up guy who understood how putting yourself out there could have a direct, and hopefully positive, impact on the people and the world around you.
Joe, rest in peace, good sir. You are already deeply missed.
When AntiSeen got going in 1983 I had just recently moved there, and it seemed like a good time to try to do something unique because there was nothing much happening musically in the city of Charlotte…
JOE YOUNG: Our goals were very humble because there was really no scene on the East Coast. You had the Milestone in Charlotte, maybe the 688 in Atlanta unless it was already gone, the Rat in Boston, CBGBs, the 9:30 Club in Washington. So we thought if we had this little band, we’d get to play every couple of months and get in free to see our favorite bands at the Milestone. We debuted in October of ‘83, then we got our first EP out in May of ’85.
I remember [the first show] pretty good. There was a good crowd there, almost 400. It was also Fetchin’ Bones’ first gig. Death Row was there, NRG from Hickory. And we headlined even though we’d never played because the promoter knew us. He knew me, and his quote to me was, “You guys are gonna be intense and I want you to headline.” We played about 8-10 songs in 20 minutes and that was all. Just a blur. I remember trying to tune up outside with an electric tuner because I can’t tune by ear – I’d only been playing guitar for six weeks! – and I was having a helluva time getting it in tune at that cold a temperature. When I got inside I had to redo the whole thing! We went back a couple of months later, and then a few months after that they had a homicide there and it got shut down.
A couple of weeks after Boone we played the Milestone [for the official Charlotte debut], but not the main room – the little room, the bar area, with this little stand in the corner. We had about 40 or 50 people in there and did about a 20 or 25 minute show, something like a buck a head to get in. I remember I had a great amp at the time, and it got knocked off the table, flying through the air.
What were some of your more memorable shows?
We had a wild gig opening for the Exploited, I think in ’84, down at Striders in Columbia. At that show we’d just finished and Jeff grabbed the bass cabinet and slung it into the crowd. The stage had curtains and they shut the curtains, and the guy in the crowd who’d gotten hit by the cabinet picked it up and slung it back up onstage through the curtain and just tore it to pieces.
The wildest Charlotte show was at the old Yellow Rose, down on Tyvola. That was the first time I saw Jeff juice himself – bloody himself up – and I had no idea he was gonna do it. I think he was mad because he saw this girl in the front row, maybe he wanted to be with her but she was with somebody else, and it made so mad he busted a Gator Ade bottle and gouged himself in the head then started slinging his head from side to side. I don’t know whether it was the loss of blood or from slinging his head, but he then collapsed on the side of the stage! He just lay there so I kept playing, and at the end of the song I walked over and kicked him in the head. He finally opened his eyes, and I said, ‘Man, are you gonna finish or do we have to take you to the hospital?’ He got up and said, ‘Naw, I’m all right, let’s finish.’ And we did it. He had blood on every square inch of his face. There was blood on the ceiling, blood on the right of the stage, the left – he slung blood in 20 feet every direction! There was a pretty big crowd there, 200-300 people crammed into that little club, and I’m sure nobody had ever seen anything like that.
What’s your first musical memory; the first thing you heard that really had an impact on you?
I was never a fan of theirs, but I do remember seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I was three, I guess it was 1963. I remember that because they were on two consecutive weekends. I think we watched the second weekend because all week long my dad talked about, ‘What are them damn Beatles doing? I’m tired of hearing about them damn Beatles. We’re gonna watch them damn Beatles and see what that’s all about.’ I remember seeing them on Ed Sullivan and all the screamin’ and stuff going on. I was just barely even three years old then. I was just never a Beatles fan, I was more into The Monkees and The Partridge Family, when they came on TV.
How and when did you discover punk rock?
About ’78, I think, when a record store opened up here in the mall. This guy had a lot of those old JEM imports. He was selling me the Pistols stuff, The Clash. I bought a lot of Velvet Underground back then; the Ramones albums. All that stuff would come out, and this guy was a little bit older and he was sampling all of it, so he was turning me on to all those groups. A few months after that I got a job in that store. Back in those days albums were $5.99 and I could actually buy ’em for three or four bucks a piece, which was cost. So I just loaded up, built up a big album collection in ’78 and ’79 before I moved down to Charlotte in ’80; I had a massive record collection.
How would you characterize your relationship with Jeff over the years? You two are the only constants in a band that has gone through a lot of bassists and drummers.
He’s a pretty easy guy to get along with, and as he’s gotten older, as a parent with two girls and a son coming, he’s gotten way more patient. When his first child was born the first thing I noticed was it changed his demeanor, because he’d been a pretty impatient guy. So he’s gotten to be a much more relaxed, mellow guy for someone that’s had two kids, two wives, several jobs and keeping a band going all at the same time.
And Jeff is on the Internet all the time, handling booking, staying in touch with [labels] and communicating with fans – us too! – all the time, stuff that 10 or 12 years ago me or Jeff would have put off, he takes care of it now. He takes a lot of pride in the website.! And if he hadn’t, I don’t think we could have kept it all going.
It is a lot like being married. When we first got together in ’83, I told Jeff, ‘You’re the boss. This is your band. I’m gonna ride your coattails to fame and fortune! As far as we can go, fame OR infamy!’
How’d you meet?
I’d seen him singing in this band called Fight For Life, early ’83, and they were as good as C.O.C. or Minor Threat. I hadn’t played guitar in my life. That summer, he asked me to help him with doing his New Breed fanzine – he mistook me for somebody else and thought I played guitar, I think! He said, ‘You play guitar, right?’ And I said yeah, a little; I’d played bass a couple of times but not guitar. So I ran home, got a crash course from my brother on guitar, and I showed up the next week playing some power chords and fooled Jeff into thinking I knew how to play. Five weeks later we were at that first gig in Boone.
Why did you tell him you could play when you never had?
When he asked if I played guitar I said, ‘Yeah, I can play a little,’ when I really meant, ‘Well, I have a bass and I jammed one time with these guys Dee Dee Ramone style.’ That’s what I was really doing. The way I looked at it was, my brother had a guitar, he could play; I’d jammed a little bit, so I figured I could kinda play. So I said that I could, and then I went back and had a crash lesson real quick. My brother showed me how to play the power chord and basically I just took it and ran with it.
I tried to play bass a couple times, in like ’78 and ’79. I had a Music Man bass once and an Epiphone bass once. Each time I practiced at home and I never got very good. I tried to play with a couple of my friends; I tried to play with my brother and a couple of his buddies one time. They let me practice with them but they didn’t like the way I played so they never asked me to come back. That was the first time I ever jammed with people. But I remembered the notes and chords to one of the songs they did when I practiced with them, and three or four years later when we got Antiseen going, one of those songs became one of our songs.
I liked his style of singing, and he liked the way I played power chords. That first week or so we wrote ‘Wife Beater,’ ‘Don’t Ask You For Nothing,’ ‘She’s Part of the Scene,’ ‘White Trash Bitch’ … four or five songs in the first couple of times we ever got together with a guitar. And amazingly, some of those are songs people still ask us to play. Here we are, 20 years later, still doing a song like ‘Don’t Ask You For Nothing,’ the epitome of simplicity, just three basic chords and a ‘Louie, Louie’ riff, Clayton screaming at some girl that wanted to go out with him who he didn’t really want to go out with but he did anyway – and ended up writing a song about.
It’s like Jagger said one time, ‘I’d rather be dead than playing ‘Satisfaction’ in Vegas at 45, and here he is in his sixties still playing it.
And here you guys are, still touring, about to hit the 20 year mark. Feeling old yet?
Things have changed. A lot. Our first time out West was in ’93, when we hit the LA Riots. We’d just come back from Europe, our longest tour ever, two months going to Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., and we were barely speaking to each other when we got back. And we had to do a month. Started in Philly, went across to Chicago to Seattle, down to San Fran and LA, over to Texas… We circled the entire United States in a ’74 Dodge miniature school bus. I remember we were in Seattle and we were gonna do a single for Sub Pop. They were gonna give us a thousand bucks, six hundred of it up front. That’s what got us home! And that tour almost killed us, because if Sub Pop hadn’t come up with that money, I don’t know if we’d have made it home or not! Later, it took us six months to get the record to them because we then had to get enough money up to do it.
It’s all fame and fortune after that, eh?
I’d rather be infamous than famous, and I’d rather be respected than rich. A helluva lot of people get rich in the music business but I don’t respect them a bit. And fame is fleeting, but infamy lasts a long, long time and you’ll make your mark. I remember this showcase gig we did in the mid ‘80s at the Brewery in Raleigh – that was the first time we got to meet and hang out with Jamie Hoover of the SpongeTones, in fact, and I remember talking to Jamie and Kevin Hawkins from the Record Bar afterwards.
They were laughing because this chick from Atlantic Records had been there. They told me, ‘When you guys were throwing things, shit was flying everywhere and Clayton was bleeding, she said, “Those guys will never get signed. They’re the only band I’ll remember, however, out of this event!”’ She told Jamie and Kevin that none of the bands would be getting signed from this particular event – but she would remember us. And to me, that was better than getting signed! Because think about all the bands that have gotten signed, Lustre, Jolene, Fetchin’ Bones, shitloads of bands have gotten signed – and dropped – in the last 20 years. But we made an impression on that woman that she’ll never forget.
And that’s all we ever cared about, when we’d blitz somebody’s town. It’s like when I heard the Ramones and the Sex Pistols for the very first times – I want it to be something they’ll never forget. First time I saw the Ramones in ’79, at the Agora in Atlanta, it was a life changing experience.
About how many shows did it take before you smashed your first guitar?
Pretty early on. I think it was at a New Year’s show that first year. I smashed it to bits. It was a good guitar; a Strat copy. I liked it. It had a three-quarter body and I really liked the way it played but somewhere among the first couple of gigs I beat it up too much. It was just a cheaply made guitar, it only cost a hundred bucks, and it wouldn’t take the pounding. I must have warped the neck because after I pounded it around for a couple gigs it would not stay in tune. I’d done too much damage to it. It’s not like my Tele, which I’ve beaten the hell out of for years. After I beat it up, at that show at that New Year’s party, I could tell it wasn’t gonna stay in tune and I got frustrated, took it off and smashed it to bits. Man, normally you buy a cheap guitar at a pawn shop, you’ve really gotta pound on it to break it, but one good whack and that thing went in every direction. It was incredible. I really hated it because it was a good guitar, and I looked around for another one like it afterwards but I never could find one quite like it. I found other ones by that company, Encore, but they were Les Paul copies or something, which I never really liked.
You always seem to have been a Fender guy.
Yeah. I was using the Bullet for the first couple years, then I got my first Tele three years after that and that’s pretty much all I’ve played. I’ve had other Fenders; I had a Jazzmaster, a Bronco and a Mustang. I’ve had about everything they make but a Strat.
How many of ’em got smashed?
None of the good ones.
Just the knock-offs?
Yeah. The only guitars I really smashed up other than that Encore were ones I got at pawn shops just for that purpose. I quit doing that after a while because a lot of other people were doing it. It wasn’t fun after a while, it wasn’t the same. You’re not using a real guitar, but you’ve still gotta get it out and play it for a couple songs [before you smash it] and it always sucks; it always sounds really horrible for that one song or two. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to stop doing it, it was sounding so bad that it wasn’t worth it.
How much of that became routine and how much of it was an homage to Pete Townshend?
Well, the first time I did it, it just happened. After that we started doing it and there was a lot of Townshend influence. I remember me and Jeff used to love to get together and watch that Kids Are Alright video; that montage of all the smashing going on at the end, we loved that. I remember one gig at the Yellow Rose we watched it and then Jeff went out and turned the whole PA over; he knocked the speakers into the crowd and stepped on all the mics with his boots, just destroyed everything in sight. That was the last time we had our own PA too, I believe.
In the early days, when Jeff was really going off and doing all kinds of crazy destructo shit, did that spur you on at all?
Not usually, ’cause most of the wildest stuff Jeff’s done, I never really got to see it.
You’re too busy playing?
Yeah. A lot of the stuff he’s done I don’t catch at all. Matter of fact, a lot of times after a show I’ll go, ‘Did you juice tonight?’ I miss a lot of the stuff when he interacts with the crowd and stuff because I’m usually looking straight ahead or off to my left a little bit, and I’m always to his left so I kinda have to look back across the stage to see what’s going on. I’m usually just watching him if I need cues on something or if I’m really having a hard time hearing the vocals, but other than that I don’t pay that much attention. It can be real distracting because it can throw you off if you’re not watching, if he gets into something real good and you kinda forget what you’re doing for a minute.
How long had you been playing before you realized you had a sound? Because there is definitely a Joe Young guitar sound. Was it when you first started playing on real Fenders?
No. Man, I swear I think I really noticed it from the first couple times we practiced. We were a little bit different from the other groups that were popular at that time, it was more of a hardcore thing that was comin’ out in the early ’80s. Everybody was playing really, really fast and we weren’t that preoccupied with it. Some of our songs were sort of like that. And the style of barre chords I was playing were so rudimentary the way I was doing ’em that it was just coming out different. I was getting a lot of harmonics and stuff because I was hitting a lot of strings that I probably wasn’t supposed to be hittin’. That gave it a unique sound. I still do that all the time. The sound’ll change too any time I get the guitar worked on; I get the frets done, that’ll clean it up a little bit. But I have to get it done every once in a while. It was no time at all before I was playing the Telecaster and a Fender amp.
I did have a couple other amps… I had a HiWatt for a while, that was the one on the first two or three records. I had a Sunn amp for like a year but I don’t think I ever played it on a record. I had a Mesa Boogie for a short time; never played that on a record and wound up getting rid of it. Never liked amps with a separate head and cabinet, I like a plain and simple combo amp. The fewer knobs the better.
When did you guys begin to develop the stage show?
Almost right from the beginning. Jeff was pretty wild, jumping off the stage and stuff.
Around ’84. He started bringing them in slowly but surely. We were doing shows at The Yellow Rose and the Church Of Musical Awareness, and he really got into it at that time. All those shows he had stage props; dummy heads, mannequin heads…
Were you pretty receptive to all that or were you kinda unsure about it at first?
No, I thought it was pretty neat because we were both so into Alice Cooper and Kiss, plus we knew we were doing something no other punk bands were doing back then. That was very un-punk to do, and we also used flashpots—which nobody else did; we used those a lot in the ’80s but we gave those up when they wouldn’t go off half the time. We were way more concerned with messing with people’s heads and messing up whatever people’s expectations of what punk or new wave, or whatever they wanted to call it, was all about.
YOUNG AS CANDIDATE AND HIS POLITICAL ACTIVITY
You got involved with the Libertarian Party a long time ago; how did you first get attracted to it?
I came up a pretty conservative person, politically, and I always followed Republican candidates and Republican ideology—in school. I did like Carter in ’76; he was out there talking up the Southern thing, he had the Allman Brothers doing benefits for him and was talking about legalizing pot. He quoted Bob Dylan on the campaign trail, but as soon as he got elected he invited Charlie Daniels to the White House, not Bob Dylan. And the thing about legalizing pot just went out the window; even though his son, Chip, was probably smoking pot in the White House. I always had liberal leanings on certain issues back then, but it was probably the failure of the Carter administration when I was in high school that turned me off to the Democratic Party forever. ‘Cause he gave us the so-called “misery index,” where you take the unemployment rate, inflation and the interest rate and add them together. After that, I was finished with him and the Democrats. The first time I was eligible to vote, in ’80, it was between Reagan, Carter, and a guy named John Anderson.
I remember seeing Anderson on 60 Minutes and I remember he made some really good points. He impressed me, and I started liking him. I remember saying to my dad, ‘That might be my first vote for President right there,’ and my dad got so irate that he took a fireplace poker out of the fireplace and poked it at my head. He came over and jabbed at me with the fireplace poker like he was really mad and gonna whack some sense into me. I was leaning towards John Anderson until the very last bit, and then about a week before the election I read this great, all-encompassing interview—in Rolling Stone of all places, when I used to actually read that—and it was with Ed Clark, the guy who was running for the Libertarian party that year. He made so many great points on the fiscal responsibility of the government, the Constitution; every point that he made rang true to me. I kept thinking, ‘Man, these sound like Republican ideas, why aren’t Republicans espousing this stuff?’
I didn’t know what I know now, all these years later; that Republicans love to talk about smaller government while they expand government. They’re great at talking about cutting back government programs and cutting government spending, they just never do it. I didn’t realize that political reality back then. I liked Ed Clark a lot but he won me over with the last little thing in the article. They asked him, ‘We know it’s a longshot but if you got five percent of the vote and qualified for retroactive campaign funding—which would have got him out of debt—what would you do if you qualified?’ He said, ‘Well, that wouldn’t work with my Libertarian principles, so I suppose I’d take the check, go to the steps of the Capitol and burn it.’ I sincerely believed the guy; everything that I read in the interview made me believe he was being sincere about this. And every Libertarian I’ve ever met since then, the bigwig ones like that, when you talk to them about principle they’re dead serious. He won my vote with that, and I’ve basically voted for Libertarians every time since then for President.
As I got older and started learning more about it, I started seeing the similarities between their ideas and Republican ideas when it comes to government spending. I started seeing their similarities to Democrats or even the Green Party when it comes to social issues and personal freedoms. Libertarians were the perfect combination of personal freedom—do your own thing as long as you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes or violating their rights—but let me keep the money I make. Let’s not give it all to the government where they’ll just squander it on social programs—that’s not in the Constitution. That’s why I stayed Libertarian all through the ’80s and ’90s. I always knew that if I stayed in the party long enough they’d hunt me down and try to get me to run, which they did.
Did people in the party know who you were, had you been doing volunteer stuff and just talking to people?
No, I’d never done any serious volunteer work or activist type stuff. I’d never done anything organized, gone to conventions or whatever. When they asked me to run in 2000, the guy that called, the national director, had no idea who I was. When I explained to them about AntiSeen and what we did and all, they were not the least bit put off by it.
Why did they call you?
They were literally just looking for offices to fill. They were trying to help the state party fill up all the state offices. They knew there were a finite number of Libertarians here in my district so they started calling them one by one. They talked to my buddy TJ—who I always wanted to run, but who wouldn’t do it back then—and they got back around to me. I gave it a try that first time, I did fairly good for a two-way race. When I came back the next year in the non-partisan race for City Council, that’s when I came within 15 votes of winning. They were pretty flabbergasted by that, the national party. They called me that night and said, ‘You’re gonna be on the city council. Lenoir’s 14,000 people, that’s about the biggest city we’ve got anybody on right now. Most of our people, commissioners or aldermen, are in cities of 2,000-3,000 people.’ So they were excited that a city of 14,000 people could elect me. Then the screw-ups came to light and the miscount was exposed and I got out of it. Although I still think there’s some chicanery going on, I feel relieved I got out of it and don’t have to go to the stupid meetings for four years.
Backtracking, when you first ran, that was for state office?
That was for state office, I was running for the State House. In North Carolina there’s 120 State Representatives and 50 State Senators, I was running for the State House district that represented part of my county and a couple counties next door. Since then they’ve changed the districts; my brother ran for it last year in a similar district, against a different person. But that’s something they try to do every year in every state, put as many Libertarian candidates on the ballot as possible just to have them on there.
It’s pretty serious. I found out a lot of stuff when I was running, and I found out how serious it is to people. I was getting wacky letters in the mail, all these things people told me they expected me to do for them. Really, every crank in your town gets a hold of you about things like property disputes. I had a little old lady flag me down with a long, handwritten thing with all these diagrams of her property, going on about the property line and a dispute with her neighbor. Which is something a State Legislator or City Councilman doesn’t handle, she needed to be dealing with the sheriff or the DA or something. But I’m relieved I didn’t get it. It’s odd though, I still consider myself to be a Libertarian but I’m kind of a “lowercase l” Libertarian now, like Walter Williams. I’m not a Libertarian activist anymore, I’ve backed off of that. If you’ve noticed, I took my stickers off my guitar.
Jeff said, ‘You’ve gotta ask Joe about why he turned heel on the Libertarian Party.”
I got pissed at them over the war. They were so far out to the left, they were out there with the Green Party. And because it was Bush. They’re not gonna give Bush any credit for anything; it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, Republican or Democrat, they’re gonna get down on the guy. But they were getting into Green Party territory. The average Democratic congressman was not giving Bush the hard time they were. I knew some Libertarians at the national level like Neil Boards, who was like me, he was reluctantly pro-war. His attitude was like mine—this is nasty business, and it’s a shame we’ve gotta be the world’s policeman, but we are. That’s it for me in a nutshell, it’s a shame the world needs a policeman but we are the policemen of the world.
We didn’t want the job. It’s just like in the old West, the biggest, baddest gunslinger usually became the sheriff or judge. That’s who they picked. Whether we wanted it or not, and if we didn’t get it, it would be China or North Korea or Russia that would step forward. We saw what happened when we weren’t willing to stand up and be the policeman in the 1900s, we had two World Wars; that’s where you get people like Hitler and Mussolini appearing out of nowhere, when we won’t stand up and do the moral thing.
Getting back to the campaign, what was it like for you putting yourself in the public eye in that way—where little old ladies recognize you from seeing your picture and come up to you on the street and want to talk to you. Can you talk about some the highs and lows, and pros and cons of the campaign?
That part was pretty neat. I didn’t mind that at all because I like to talk politics so much. I ran a pretty unconventional campaign, I just did a handful of signs around town. Mostly I depended on the free stuff I could get from the newspapers—interviews and profiles I knew they were gonna do. I didn’t buy any ads—any regular ads; I did do some matchbooks the first time around that I gave out and left around town at phone booths and convenience stores.
I didn’t do any high profile campaigning though, I just talked to people one-on-one and really only brought politics up when they brought it up. I wasn’t going around all the time going, ‘Hey I’m Joe Young, I’m running for State office.’ I didn’t do it that way because most people don’t like to talk politics, religion or theology, and I don’t think you’re making big points with them by bringing it up and trying to sell yourself. If they brought it up I was eager to talk, but I always let them bring it up first. They occasionally wanted to know a little bit about the party, and I bet it made a few new friends that way and got them to start coming to LP meetings here in town. Mostly I kept it really low key and didn’t do a lot of stuff until the last week or two, when I started getting newspaper coverage.
The lady who covered the election here for the local newspaper, Pat, both times, knew I was in AntiSeen. Basically she kind of liked me and wanted to see me do well, I believe. She liked the idea of new blood like this shaking up the mainstream parties. She was careful to withhold, or make sure that stuff that was embarrassing not be out there needlessly. It’s kinda not what she reported, but what she didn’t report that kind of played to my favor. But the minute it looked like I won that second election she got four or five calls from people going, ‘Do you know what this guy’s band is all about?’ They were all going to the AntiSeen website is what it broke down to. They were seeing the language on it, the record covers and the photos. Pat really loved it all, I think, it gave her something to cover. She was really fair to me. You saw that article in the paper about where I said ‘Democracy sucks?’ She called me a couple times and gave me chances to retract and I said, ‘No. I’m not apologizing, I believe there’s a limited constitutional republic; I don’t believe in democracy, that leads to socialism and I hate socialism and communism. If people here don’t know basic civics and don’t know we’re a republic not a democracy… ‘ She gave me multiple opportunities to straighten it out but I wouldn’t do it. Even when the recount was going on, and I thought I still might win. She had to start covering it once the feces hit the oscillator and everything but she did it in a fair manner.
Do you think being a musician, specifically being in a punk rock band and more specifically a controversial one at that, helped you? Or do you think it had no effect on your campaign?
The first time around it was kind of a neutral thing. It might even have been positive because the first time about the only publicity I was able to generate was when I sent stuff out to people and played up being in the band and being a rock musician. Now, I would only tell ’em what I wanted them to know, and they were eager to cover it from that angle. I was able to get some articles in Hickory and in the entertainment paper Focus; I was able to get free publicity like that, which I’ve always been able to do in AntiSeen too. So that’s all I was trying to do, and it did work that first time around but I got beat 82% to 18%.
A third-party candidate running for the first time ever and in a state race AND gets 18% is doing pretty good.
Yeah, I was like third or fourth in the state. But in races like that you get killed by straight ticket voting. You have to go through every race individually to avoid that, and it’s virtually impossible for us [Libertarians] to win elections because of stuff like that. In that city council race it was non-partisan but everybody in town obviously knew I was a Libertarian, because of the previous year and the band was known, but then again, before that election for city council they knew very little about the band or its content. Only what I was willing to divulge. That was a much easier election to do. Campaigning for a small town of 14,000 is much easier than trying to cover three large counties. I mean the area that I ran for state house had approximately 60-70,000 people and was a lot of square miles too.
Had you ended up in either position, would that have affected AntiSeen’s touring? Would you have gone on tour and skipped meetings?
I would have gone on tour. They skip meetings all the time. There was a big meeting here last week, they’re debating a junk car ordinance in the county commission and two of the five county commissioners were not there. But the meetings are on Tuesday nights, so we could have just tried not to schedule anything important, like practice or a recording session, on Tuesdays. Which would have been pretty easy. Only if we were going to Europe would that have been a problem. Then I would have missed meetings for like a three or four week period. I was gonna do the meetings and continue to do as much in the band as I could, but I wasn’t gonna curtail anything. I wasn’t gonna miss any gigs to go to their meetings, which are pretty doggone boring. Half the time, if anything serious comes up, it always ends up getting put off for a couple weeks before the get around to it.
THE BAND AND ITS IMAGE
What would you say is the biggest misconception about AntiSeen?
Probably that we’re mean and dangerous malcontents; that we would just as soon kill you as talk to you. But most people, after they work with us or do a show or whatever, say, ‘I can’t believe how nice and friendly you guys are. You’re so easy to work with.’ They’ll always say these incredibly nice things when it’s all said and done, even if the place ends up getting kinda wrecked. Most of the time that’s the way it plays out, but not every time. I’ll say this, we can be bad dudes if we have to. We can be big assholes and we’re not afraid of confrontation, but I always thought we were easygoing—the typical Southern dudes who’ll open a door for a little old lady or help her across the street, and say yes ma’am or no ma’am, but if you cross ’em they’ll wanna fight real quick. To me that’s kind of us in a nutshell. It’s like that one guy said in one review, I can’t remember who it was but the review said ‘Many a fight has been started with the line you think you’re better than me?’ Maybe we do have a little bit of that complex. A lot of Southerners do.
You and Jeff befriended GG Allin of course—some would say “defended” at times when he was viewed by anyone who was remotely mainstream as controversial. And I’ve told the story many times about the time you guys brought GG to Charlotte to play the Church of Musical Awareness and he proceeded to masturbate and take a shit on the stage and then assault a girl, all within the first 15 minutes or so.
The thing about GG was, it was a deal where you really had to know the guy. Of all the people I’ve known through the years in underground music, you know, he was the best houseguest I’ve ever had. The first time I met him was in ’87 when he had that show at the Church Of Musical Awareness; I’d corresponded with him but hadn’t met him in person until then. I remember coming back from that gig and telling my brother and his friends about it, and my brother just said, ‘Man, that guy sounds like an asshole! Throwing shit on the crowd?’ They couldn’t believe it. Just incensed. And my brother said, ‘If I ever meet him, I’ll kick his ass!’
So a few years later, in ’91, GG had gotten out of jail and came down to Charlotte to record the Murder Junkies album. I couldn’t get off work that day so I sent my brother to pick him up at the airport. He met GG, who walked right up and shook his hand – and by the end of the day, my brother and GG were best friends. They went home and stayed up all night smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor and watching TV. My brother actually came to know GG better than I did! The last songs GG recorded, I think, were just two weeks before he OD’s and died, and he did them at my old apartment with my brother on acoustic guitar and him singing. So my brother, before he met GG, didn’t think he deserved to breathe, but he came to know and respect him.
GG really did a lot of stuff for show and for shock value. I’m not saying some of it wasn’t real, but still – like all the talk about rape and stuff, well, I’m 100% convinced that guy never raped anybody in his life. He liked to talk about it because he knew it was a hot button issue.
Well, let’s talk about image, then. AntiSeen has drawn some heat for displaying the rebel flag onstage, for example.
It’s like I told this guy – he was a black guy — over in Germany, all the guys I knew in the ‘70s in high school, white and black, threw the “N” word around like it was nothing. You don’t do that now, obviously, 20-30 years later. But don’t take that out on me just because I’m an old fashioned dude and I still am naïve enough to think that people DON’T think I’m a racist because I’m proud of being from the South. If you think I’m a racist JUST because I’m from the South, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise.
The band used to get tagged as rednecks because you were from the South…
Yeah, a little bit when we started out. We didn’t hear it as much back then. It wasn’t until later on when it started coming out, and it really started happening when we started playing it up more. We were the ones to start including rebel flags onstage and in records and stuff, so it was something that we consciously made an effort to take advantage of, I think. ‘Cause we noticed how when we went outside the South, people always commented and talked about our accents. So when they always brought it up, we even turned it on more. We started playing it up when we saw how much people seemed to be amazed by it, like they’d never met a Southerner before.
I also remember back then when R.E.M. got going, you would always read interviews where they were going on about their Southern image. Because people were always getting on them about it. I always thought it was a hoot because I never saw it. A Southern influence? I never detected it in that group in any way shape or form other than they lived in Athens, Georgia. I thought it was amusing the way reviewers and magazine people went on back then about REM and these groups from North Carolina like Let’s Active, the H-Bombs, the dB’s—all those pop groups that were hot back then. They always brought up the Southern influence and it just did not seem… it wasn’t like they were talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd or something. The press seemed preoccupied with it and I think that had a lot to do with why we started playing it up. They were just beating it to death with those other groups, and they always had to kind of find a way to rationalize it and not come off looking like rednecks.
Do you think that because you play harder edged music and Jeff has a rougher appearance, that when you guys started flying the confederate flag people got more uptight about it, and it all of a sudden became a political thing? Even though AntiSeen in general is a relatively apolitical band?
Yeah. I think sometimes people do but we really don’t take as much heat for it as you might think. We took a little bit in Germany, the first couple times we went there people mentioned it, but normally it’s usually not that big of a deal. People know what to expect. We take way more criticism for it in print than in person or at shows. I can’t remember the last time someone got upset about it at a show.
And then a lot of the band’s lyrics have been taken out of context. For example, your early song “Wife Beater”: because I know the song and I know Jeff, so I know that he is not glorifying abuse but rather condemning it through a character-driven narrative in the song. Other people might not bother to pay close enough attention, though.
I’ve always been one of those people who, when I listen to music, I listen to the riff first, and the lyrics are the last I tune in on. Last year we were at Tremont and I was talking to [club owner] Pennye Craver about our re-releases and stuff and she said to me, ‘You know, people should really pay a lot more attention to the lyrics because there really is a lot going on there.’ She’s paid attention and knew that Jeff had written some provocative stuff. But you’re either one of those people who pays attention to the context and nuances of the words or you’re not. I’m not, but Pennye is.
I’ll admit, we don’t make it any easier by not printing lyrics; we’ve always made it difficult for people, and that goes all the way to when we first started. Like, the name of the band, how we spelled it, was to confuse people and make them think a little bit. And from the very first we said let’s not print lyrics. Let’s make people listen over and over and talk about it. I remember an interview with Mick Jagger when he said, ‘People only know the chorus, like, “ya-ya-ya-ya-can’t get no satisfaction…”, that’s all they know anyway!’ So I said to Jeff, ‘Every hardcore band on the planet it printing their lyrics, trying to change the world, so let’s not print our lyrics.’ And with the exception of three or four songs, we haven’t. Of course, when the book comes out on Steel Cage, all of them will be in there.
Man, I don’t even know most of the lyrics – I don’t even know the chords that all the songs start in!
What would you say keeps AntiSeen motivated as a band?
I think the question should be, ‘Why would you bother?’ A lot of people ask why would you keep going even though you haven’t ‘made it,’ and to me, we ‘made it’ the first time we put something out on vinyl, when we put out the Drastic EP. When me and Jeff started, we thought we’d play for a year or two, put out one or two EPs, and we’d get into a whole bunch of shows for free at the Milestone. We might not get any beers out of [the club owner]—but he couldn’t charge us if we were opening for the Circle Jerks!
You’ve always had an interesting relationship with the press, particularly in Charlotte; you’ve been alternately bashed and praised. Do you think that if you’d been based in a different Southern city or just a different city anywhere that you would have been treated the same or that you would have gotten more respect or no respect?
I think that in a bigger city, like Tampa or Atlanta, we’d be lost or ignored. In Charlotte I always thought we did pretty good because it was easy to get publicity, and to make your own publicity. I used to have the type of relationship with a lady at the Charlotte Observer where I’d go right up to her desk on the fourth floor and leave my flyers or records on her desk when she wasn’t there, and by Friday it would be in the newspaper. I did the same thing at Creative Loafing. There were only three or four newspaper people we had to deal with, and when we started out there were only three or four record stores where you could put your flyers up in.
I always thought we had it good with the press in Charlotte. The rest of the Carolinas might not have been as generous because there’s always been a rivalry. Everybody in North and South Carolina looks at Charlotte and they just don’t like it; it’s the biggest city, it’s got the pro sports teams and they just don’t like it. A lot of places I go you can sense that kind of animosity, or jealousy, towards the big city. Raleigh and Chapel Hill had the bigger music scenes and there was always a rivalry between us and them; we’d talk about how overrated they were, and they’d put down our city and all of our bands. That stuff went on all the time back in the ’80s.
Any regrets being a Charlotte band?
Nah. We’d never get rich doing what we’re doing no matter where we lived. And Charlotte was always the ‘big town’ for us, where we all met; I’m from Lenoir, and Jeff’s from Albemarle. We first got together hanging out and seeing bands at the Milestone and going to shows like KISS, Alice Cooper, Skynyrd and all those at the old Coliseum. We grew up watching Fred Kirby and WNCW wrestling, so we’re Carolina boys through and through. We’d have never gotten together back in the early ‘80s if it hadn’t been for the Charlotte scene at the time.
The venues in Charlotte come and go, and so do the pro basketball teams. We’ve already outlived one of them, so maybe we’ll outlive the next one!
Photos credit: courtesy Steel Cage Books, from the book Destructo Maximus (and of course if any individual photographers request a specific credit, BLURT is happy to add that here, so just get in touch: fmills123 (at) nc.rr.com).