Brad Knetl: An Inheritance

Shirley Highway at night

I have inherited Brad's CDs. I've got a big box of 'em here, maybe a hundred and fifty or two hundred discs, and somewhere—either in his condo or at his parents' house—there are more. I've decided that they're all going to find happy homes somewhere: some with me, some with folks who knew Brad, but most of 'em will go out to people who never knew him. I'm not sure how I'll do it yet, but they'll make it into the world sooner or later.

Going through them has been tough. One of his discs was Johnny Thunders' So Alone. Not a great album—Thunders was strung out and had trouble keeping it together from minute to minute, so the 45-minute album is quite a mess—but it does have a great song on it: You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory. That hurt. But it was an out-of-the-blue suckerpunch. There was no history there. No depth to it. It's just a great song and it stung.

When I find something with history, it stops me in my tracks. Brad liked Chron Gen, but he especially loved their version of Jet Boy Jet Girl. One night in 1999 he called me up and excitedly said, "I just heard Jet Boy Jet Girl IN SPANISH! AND IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME! YOU HAVE TO FIND IT FOR ME!"

"Are you sure it was Spanish?" I asked. "I mean, I know that the song was originally in French by Plas—"

"It was definitely Spanish! Find it!"

This was before Youtube and before any- and every-thing you could ever want was just a Google search and torrent download away. Hell it was before Google or bittorrent even existed. I hit Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, and Excite looking for any references to a Spanish version.


I weighed the odds of Brad having actually heard a Spanish version of the song against Brad's complete inability to speak a word of any language except English, and went looking for the French version on CD. I found it, ordered a copy from France, and told Brad.

He told me I was an idiot: I had found the wrong version, bought the wrong CD, and wasted a ton of money mail ordering it from some foreign hellhole. It wasn't until the album finally arrived and he gave it a spin that he was willing to admit that, perhaps, he had been in error and the song was actually in French. There were tears when I found that Plastic Bertrand disc again. There was history there. There was a story. That was a piece of Brad.

I was always finding music for Brad. He wanted The Blood's first album? No problem. I discovered it had been reissued by Harry May, stuck 25 Cashdollarsamerican into an envelope and mailed it off to Merrie Olde England. A month or two later, I handed Brad a copy of False Gestures for a Devious Public. That was great, he said, but what he was actually looking for was a particular version of Waste of Flesh and Bone that wasn't on that CD. He sent me a thirty second RealAudio clip of it off some website. I found it on CD, stuck 25 Cashdollarsamerican in an envelope and mailed it off to Merrie Olde Los Angeles. Two weeks later, I handed Brad a three CD boxed set, which included a single track by the Blood—the version of Waste of Flesh and Bone he had been hunting for. Listening to False Gestures again wasn't easy. Listening to that boxed set again hurt too.

Then there are the dozens of CDs I gave Brad. Sometimes my quest for a complete discography meant I wound up with two or three copies of something, varying only in what supplemental tracks were included. I'd often give one to Brad. Or two. Sometimes I'd just buy Brad CDs for the hell of it. It's pretty easy to spot the stuff I gave to him—I would always listen to the CDs first and write notes on the case in sharpie. A dot next to a song title meant I liked it. A ~ meant it was okay. Songs that were really bad would get crossed out. When songs weren't numbered, I would carefully scratch the numbers into the plastic next to the titles. Errors in sequence would likewise be corrected. Sometimes I'd just idly doodle on the jewel cases as I listened. I can't imagine what Brad—who treated his belongings like they were artifacts in a museum—thought of that.

But I digress. Sorry. I do that. I ramble.

My record collection was a minefield before I added Brad's CDs to it, though. There were the Slickee Boys. They took the wind out of my sails when I gave them a spin recently. I love 'em. So did Brad. Garage rock 'n roll. One of the first bands to put out a punk record, back in the age of dinosaurs and stone tools—1976. Hometown heroes, too. Maryland boys all the way. They broke up in '91, but every year they got together for a couple reunion shows, normally Xmas/New Years' Eve or Independence Day. It was part of the natural cycle: the moon waxes and wanes, the seasons change, and before the year ends, the Slickees will play a show.

Brad and I went to as many of those shows as we could. In the summer of 2011 they announced the reunions were over. They'd play two more shows: one in Baltimore, one in DC, and that was it. We went to Baltimore. July 2, 2011. I remember that entire day so vividly. The night before had been beautifully dark and silent because of midnight power failure, and I took a photo that I'd been planning for more than a decade (before I owned a point and shoot, never mind a DSLR). I was so pleased that I processed the picture as soon as I got home (~4:30 AM) and sent it to Brad. I went to bed around 6:00 AM and got maybe five or six hours of sleep so I'd be recharged by the time we saw the Slickees.

The trip up to Baltimore was uneventful, and what I remember is the highway streaking by and Brad being solicitous of my foot (it hurt then, it hurts now, and I don't expect that'll change any time soon). The show itself is burned into my mind. Brad stayed at the back, but I—as always—parked myself in front of the stage during the opening act and didn't stray more than three feet from my initial spot. The openers were abysmal, but the Slickees were fantastic, astounding, and transcendent.

That show was one of the most intensely spiritual moments of my life. I am an atheist, but I do not deny the validity of religious experience, I merely deny its supernatural origin. Being part of a crowd that shares the same fervent love for the band, that knows the words to every song, and that sings along is a deeply moving experience—the individual is subsumed into an unimaginably large cosmic entity. The crowd is you, you are the crowd, and the band, delivering their benediction from the stage, are a direct connection to all the wonder in the universe. It was 90 minutes of deeply connected, cathartic, communal joy. It was also an ending. A final, sad night.

Brad Knetl watching the Slickee Boys

For me, it was also a night of intense concentration. It was my last chance to photograph the Slickees. There was a shot I'd been trying to get since the first time I saw them: Kim Kane wearing a neo-tribal mask, crouching down during the intro to The Brain That Refused To Die, ready to leap up and dance when the tribal chanting began. I got it. Finally. Brad thought the photo was one of the best I'd ever taken. I have to agree. He had a print of it somewhere—the only photo of mine he did.

I tried to shoot Brad at one point, but for many reasons—some technical, some personal—the image just didn't work. But still, even out of focus and motion blurred, you can see everything that night was for us in his expression.

autographed slickee boys cd coversI also got a good shot of Mark Noone, the vocalist, addressing the crowd like it was a tent revival. Mark has an instant rapport with everyone and he knows how to get a crowd to love him. He's a friendly, outgoing, laid back, charismatic guy. And funny too. When I was doing charity auctions to help pay John Stabb's medical bills Marshall, Dan, and Mark signed a bunch of Slickees stuff for me to sell. After Mark signed everything, he said to me, "I can spell 'Kim Kane' too" and promptly signed it all a second time in Kim's name. Brad was there for that night too—it was before a Rustbuckit / Ottley / New Standard gig at the Velvet Lounge.

After we left that last Slickees gig, Brad gave $60 to a homeless guy. Actually, he gave me the $60 to give to the homeless guy. Not sure why he didn't make the approach himself, but I was grateful to be a part of it.

And Black Market Baby. Can't forget Black Market. Brad had a story he always liked to tell about BMB—well, not about them, about me. Actually, the story he told was always about me, but it was an us moment underneath his telling.

It was 2004. I had effectively been working part time for a year or so doing groundwork for a Black Market Baby reissue. I'd been tracing photographers, master tapes, and band members. I ate, slept, and breathed Black Market Baby. Whenever I saw Brad, the topic of the conversation always meandered over to Black Market, and I would geek out. Luckily Brad was also a fan.

One day when our conversation turned that way and I had exciting news: the master tapes for Black Market Baby's Potential Suicide / Youth Crimes single had been found and I was going to buy them. I was gonna meet the guy in a parking lot on Rockville Pike and we'd make the exchange. He'd bring the tapes. I'd bring cash.

The way the story sounds is why Brad loved it so much. It has all the makings of a double cross, of a mugging, of a scam. It's so sketchy on its surface that your mind puts the worst possible meaning to every word and builds a grim story around it. In your mind it ends with us hogtied in our underwear behind a dumpster while some thug makes off with the money and Brad's the full telling is almost comically anticlimactic.

It wasn't like that at all. Brad and I knew the seller—Skip—and we'd met him there before. The parking lot of 1327-J Rockville Pike was convenient (kind of) for all of us, and it was an address with history: Skip's record store had been there and it's the place he ran Limp Records from (it's also the address on the back of the first few Dischord records, if you happen to be a closet DC hardcore fan).

Brad had been my wheels for local deals many times. We enjoyed the little road trips, the inevitability of getting lost, and the traditional stops at foreign 7-11's to sample whatever vintage the local Dr Pepper vineyards were producing. He also got a kick out of seeing me meet people in parking lots, dive bars, and restaurants to hand them a wad of cash and walk away with a box of records, posters, or photos. There had never been any trouble and was never any danger because I'm careful, methodical, and more than a little paranoid. He still joked that I only wanted him along as muscle in case my drug deals went bad.

Brad was really excited about the Black Market Baby tapes, not just willing to help and glad to be the wheelman. He wanted a stake in it. We talked it over (because it was not going to be a money-making proposition—I believe the metaphor I used was "like putting our money in a brown paper bag and setting it on fire"), but he ponied up half the cash, we wrote up and signed a contract delineating ownership, and we were off. This was one trip that we knew by heart—Brad worked out there, took that route often, and we'd been to see Skip there more than once. We got there early, so hit the McDonald's across the street for some breakfast. When we saw Skip pull in, we walked back to the parking lot, talked for a while, inspected the merchandise, and handed over the cash.

We were now the owners of the master tapes for Black Market Baby's first single. That record. Wow. Astoundingly tuneful, loud, and dark rock and roll. One of the greatest punk records ever released and the record that started me down the path to OCD-collectordom. On a personal level, Black Market Baby are like the Ramones: I heard them and everything changed. Brad was not quite that enthusiastic, but he was certainly a hardcore fan...

When BMB finally decided it was time to reissue their back catalog, Brad helped make it happen. I was living entirely in the informal economy at that point, and had no bank accounts or credit cards. I was working on getting the tapes digitized, but didn't have any way to pay for it except cash. Since the studio we were using is in the only sketchy part of Arlington, I was a little reluctant to carry a couple hundred bucks in cash there with me. Brad, who was a proper grownup with a credit card and everything, stepped up.

We went over to Inner Ear, the studio that made DC Hardcore happen, and got to work. Okay, we watched, Don Zientara worked. Brad sank into and armchair in the control room while we listened to Potential Suicide and Youth Crimes—fresh from the master tapes—blasting through the monitors. Then we listened to all the alternate mixes, and then the unfinished takes of the songs. It was fantastic. The sound. The noise. The bone-shaking thrum of the music. The shadows that Brad wrapped around himself while everything unfolded were like something out of a Hitchcock film. He just watched and listened and enjoyed the moment.

A few months earlier, we'd been out to Annapolis to visit Boyd Farrell, BMB's vocalist. I had a bunch of extra sleeves for the Potential Suicide single, so I brought two along and Boyd signed them, one for me, one for Brad. We'd made a dry run the night before to make sure we knew the way, and for some reason, I recorded bits and pieces of the trip out. We still managed to get lost on the way there (and AGAIN on the way back), but we did make it. We met Boyd, his mother, and some other DC punks. They told stories and relived their punk rock youths while Brad and I were talking about business, finances, and his desire to buy a condo. It was a good day. One of the best, really.

Later, after the CD was finished, we were in Mike Dolfi's (BMB's bassist) basement listening to some rough mixes of Boyd and Mike's current band and picking up the master tapes for BMB's first album and unreleased second album (they sit on my shelf today, waiting for a reissue with a budget to allow for their restoration). We brought the Potential Suicide sleeves with us, so Mike signed them too. I hung on to Brad's sleeve for him because I was more likely to run across the remaining members of the band than he was. Didn't happen. I found Keith, but then he dropped off the face of the earth. Tommy got in touch...and then out of touch... Paul, well, he didn't seem that interested in re-treading ancient history. So Brad's sleeve stayed on my shelf, half-signed, until I ran across it again recently. That was another hard moment. It really hurt.

black market baby signed sleeves

On January 30, two days after Brad died, I was in DC with my girlfriend. We were there for a screening for Salad Days, a documentary about DC punk. We'd booked well in advance and with the knowledge that the future was uncertain and if I needed to be with Brad, I would be with Brad. Even though that was a moot point, I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle the film until the moment we got there. I was still in shock. Numb. Despairing.

I couldn't help but remember the time Brad and I went to AFI Silver Spring for a preview screening of Punk's Not Dead. June 14, 2006. That one was a general history of punk, but since it was directed by a hometown girl, there was a segment on Black Market Baby. The Black Market bit started, Boyd appeared on screen and started talking, and from somewhere near the front of the auditorium, Boyd started to heckle himself: "Get off the screen, you old fart! Let someone interesting talk!" Big laugh.

I stood at the back for Salad Days, watching the crowd almost as much as the flick. It was an okay movie. Potted history of DC hardcore, fun graphics, and by-the-numbers interviews. The strongest parts were where the narrative of the film intersected with the history of the director. Boyd was interviewed and they played a bit of Black Market. It felt good. Brad was gone, but still there. I wish he coulda seen it, but the sadness was mellow and soft. More like a fever dream than the ragged nightmare of the past few days.

Towards the end of the movie someone stood up and started down the aisle towards the bar. That looks like Mark Noone, I thought. It was. I walked up and gave him a hug. God only knows what he made of that. Mark and I have only met a few times, so I doubt he recognized me, but he's a very warm, kind person, so he reciprocated unhesitatingly. It was good.

James Sinks

punks not dead tickets

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