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PRIME
TIMEFOR
CRIME

by Michael Goldberg

San Francisco--The girl in the black leather jacket with the safety pin through the collar, the tight black jeans, silver pumps, crewcut, and eye shadow successfully duplicating two black eyes, is smashing bottles out on the sidewalk in front of the Mabuhay Gardens. It's after 1 a.m. San Francisco's finest (also sporting crewcuts) come and drag her away. But the broken qlass remains

Inside, the club is near full. Over 300 of the sleaziest of SF's punk aficionados are standing around trying to look cool, draining long-neck bottles of Bud or staring blankly at the empty stage.

Backstage, the four members of Crime, outfitted in police uniforms: black slacks, wide leather belts and light blue police shirts with police badges attached, are ready to go. A siren starts to wail and nearly every-one in the club rises to their feet. Crime hit the stage, plug into towering Marshall amps and start to play.

Nothing. No sound from the amps.

"James, there's no power!" screams Johnny Stark, the tall pasty guitarist singer. The crowd is pressing up against the stage, frustrated by Crime's inability to start blasting. Then the sound hits, like a fist landed squarely on an unsuspecting jaw.

Crime play loud. So loud that the plate glass window at the opposite end of the club shakes, tables tremble and people hang onto their drinks. Loudness may be Crime's only musical raison d'etre. This band is a literal translation of the concept "minimal." Drummer Hank Rank thumps out a simple Bo Didley beat that is only adequate in the context of the rest of the band. Bassist Ron the Ripper coaxes a thick rumble from his amp that reminds one of the thunder of a bulldozer rolling over rugged terrain. And the guitar playing of Strike and Frankie Fix make you feel like you've been forcefully held underwater for the full 25 minutes of the set.

What then, is the appeal of Crime? What draws 300-400 fans to their infrequent gigs?

The Crime pose.

Crime are pure style. Content becomes irrelevant in the hands of these image jugglers. On stage, Frankie Fix assumes all manner of rock and roll hero stances: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Lou Reed, David Johansen and on and on. Though the rest of the band merely look like escaped cons in police drag, Fix at his best brings to mind every two-bit ganster you ever saw on those late night "B" movies.

Off stage, however, Crime are at their most potent. Their press photos and publicity posters are the best to come out of the SF new wave scene. Each carries through the Crime concept, portraying the foursome as arrogant rock and roll renegades. Of all the S.F. new wave bands, only Crime-landed a major item in Herb Caen's San Francisco Chronicle gossip column (read up and down Northern California) when the Hall of Justice formally requested that the group refrain from impersonating policemen. The group has built its reputation more on what they look like and who they can alienate, than for any real musical worth.

Their song, "Crime Wave," succinctly explains the Crime credo: "We belong to the crime wave / Nobody from your wave / We belong to the other wave / Don't care about new wave / Yea, Yea / we're from the other wave / Don't come around and try to bring us down / We're crime wave rockers with the deadly sound."

At the Mabuhay, as the band plays with a relentless anger, one enthusiast whips a water pistol from his coat pocket and starts squirting Fix. "Keep that shit up and you ain't gonna live," sneers the 5 ft. 5 manic guitarist. The kid in the crowd continues to squirt. Fix jumps off the stage and gives the guy a kick in the chest that doubles him over. Fix remounts the stage and the band launch into "Rockabilly Drugstore," a song about, in Fix's words, "a drug store where people go and hang out and dance and the cops are banging down the door and the cops start dancing and taking drugs." The kid with the pistol recovers and resumes his liquid taunting. Fix is furious. "I'll kill you, asshole," he screams, as he leaps off the stage, throws off his Flying V guitar and leaps on the inciter. The guitar hits the floor and the neck cracks off. Hank Rank pulls Fix off the startled kid. "People got to show a little respect," mutters Fix, grabbing a spare guitar. Crime wrap up their set. No encore.

murder by guitar

"We're known for violence and destruction at our shows," says Johnny Strike coolly, in the quiet of Crime's rented rehearsal hall a few days later. "Not that we advocate violence, it just always seems to happen when we play."

"It's alright," adds Frankie Fix, curling his lips to a sneer. Fix looks sleazy, as usual, in a white dinner jacket with the collar turned up, hair greased back Fifties style, shades, and the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lip. "But we don't like it when they fuck with us."

Though they like to advertise themselves as "San Francisco's First and Only Rock and Roll Band," Crime's actual position in the city is that of most notorious rock and roll band. Their copped costumes has kept them in the news for much of their two year existence. And Crime earned the wrath of nearly everyone in the SF new wave community earlier this year, when they refused to play a benefit for striking mine workers, reportedly saying that "miners are just assholes who drive around in Cadillacs." (The group later amended that statement, according to one newspaper story, claiming that they were actually talking about railroad workers.)

Following that mine workers benefit, the group claimed that they were banned from the Mabuhay (during that three month period they referred to themselves in frequent press releases as "SF's First and Only Rock and Roll Banned") and also claimed they were denied airplay on KSAN's punk show, the Outcaste Hour. They even approached this writer at one point with a convoluted conspiracy theory that involved the Mabuhay, several radio stations, a local record store and the West Coast editor of this very magazine. All were, they said, conspiring to freeze Crime out of the city. Yet despite these paranoid cries, Crime actually seem to thrive on their alienated stance.

"We stand apart," says Fix, lighting another cigarette as he kicks his feet onto a coffee table and sinks back into the crummy ripped couch that is the only piece of furniture in the stark rehearsal hall.

"We're the out crowd," says Johnny Strike, lounging in a dark blue jumpsuit with shiny police badge attached. "If there's one clique and everybody goes along with it, it gets real boring."

"It's like a fraternity," says Fix.

"We're antagonists," adds Strike. "We're the ones that keep everybody awake. We stick pins in people."

*               *               *

It was just two years ago that Crime made their worldwide debut playing a small SF bar that thought it was getting the latest in disco sounds. "They unplugged us during our fourth song," laughed Fix.

The group went underground, taking up a brief residency at an S.F. whorehouse, the Bordello. "It was a famous place off Polk St," Strike recalled. "It was a combination of all different kinds of people from professional hustlers to jet set people to punks. It wasn't just a whorehouse. All kinds of things were going on. There was gambling and drug deals. It was the place to go."

Strike and Fix, who both claim to be 28, are childhood pals from South Philadelphia. Back east, they played in numerous bands together. Most were soul bands and they are still fervent fans of sixties soul: the Mar-velettes, Supremes, James Brown, Sam & Dave and the rest. But their band, the White Niggers, was unsuccessful. Three years ago Strike was forced to leave Philly. "I was on special probation," he explained, staring down at his hands. "They were gonna lock me up so I wanted to get as far away as possible. I was arrested for possession of narcotics." What kind of narcotics?

"Persian heroin and cocaine. And syringes filled with blood." Strike looks over at Fix and laughs. "It was a joke. We had these syringes filled with blood and we'd go to colleges and high schools and leave them in the bathrooms. The cops loved that."

Once in San Francisco, around 1975, this dynamic duo ran into Ron the Ripper (one-time drummer with the Chosen Few and the Lost and Found, forerunners of the Flamin' Groovies). "See, Ripper had never played bass before joining us," said Fix.

Crime went through an endless series of drummers (including Brittley Black, who went on to drum for the Readymades and who is about to debut a new band on his own, The Next). Finally Hank Rank showed up. "Hank had never played drums before," said Fix, "But he was into it! He gave us a portfolio that was really well done. Showed pictures of him and explained what he was into. He came down, bought a drum kit, played with us and it was there. We had other guys who came down and said," Fix assumes a hillbilly voice, "You guys are makin' up your own rhythms. I been playin' 15 years and I don't know how to play this stuff. This is crazy! Bye!"

A roadie with some other band walks into the rehearsal hall carrying an amp. "I guess we better continue this elsewhere," says Hank Rank, 23, zipping up his leather jacket. We move out into the cool night air and walk halfway down the alley to a funky bar. Once inside, all eyes turn to stare at the bizarre-looking foursome. "Let's take that booth," mumbles Fix, pointing to the darkest corner of the bar. When first questioned about their real names, over a year ago, the Crime members were resolutely close-mouthed. Today, they have come around. "We don't see any reason to hide behind phoney names," says Strike. "Other bands can do that but not us." Strike reveals he is actually John Bassett. Rank is Henry Rosenthal. Ripper, the most silent 29 year old bassist, is really Ron Greco. And Fix was born Marc D'Agostino. I'm thinking about changing my name to Frankie Pose," says Fix. "I don't want the record companies to think that I take a lot of drugs. We don't take that much. We're not addicts."

In conversation, the group returns again and again to their look. "It's like James Dean," says Johnny. "He had his pose, but he also broke out of that. We feel the same way. We're known for being unpredictable. We have different looks. We wear Chinese uniforms, rockabilly clothes, tuxedos, detective clothes, gangsters. The police thing is what we're famous for 'cause of Herb Caen. And it shows the authority. We consider ourselves the new authority."

What do you mean new authority?

"The new authority of rock and roll," says Rank.

"The police look is authoritarian," says Fix.

"And it's modern," adds Johnny Strike. "Everybody wears a uniform of some kind. The rock bands have their uniforms, the businessmen have their uniforms. Everybody will wear stylized uniforms in the future."

Crime have released two records during their two years together. Their first, "Hot Wire My Heart" b/w "Baby You're So Repulsive" was a rather primitive and crude effort modeled closely on the New York Dolls sound. The second, "Murder By Guitar" / "Frustration" showed much improvement although, even by the standards of the Ramones' debut album, it left much to be desired. Both records impressed the English rock press and "Baby You're So Repulsive" landed on Sounds' alternative chart.

It's been some time since "Murder" was released. The group has been trying to land a record contract. "But it's got to be with a record company who understand our concept," said Rank. Earlier this year, they went into the studio with Elliot Mazer (Producer of Neil Young) but were not happy with the tape. An encounter with Lou Reed at a local restaurant recently may lead the Wild One to assume the producer's chair. According to Crime, several record companies including Sire, Radar, Capitol and Arista have expressed interest.

The band's latest coup, however, was to be the first new wave band to play a maximum security prison. On Labor Day of this year, Crime entered San Quentin and performed for over 500 prisoners. "It was something we had wanted to do for a long time," said Rank. "We knew we'd be playing for a crowd that was really into crime."

As the prison gig approached, Crime almost got cold feet. "As it got closer," said Rank, "things we were hearing got scarier. They said we couldn't wear blue jeans or a work shirt 'cause in the event of a riot, they wouldn't want us to get shot, mistaken for prisoners. Then they told us about the no-hostage rule which is that if you're taken hostage by a prisoner, they will not bargain for your life. If he says he's going to kill you if they won't let him out, they'll say 'Fine, kill this person. We don't care. We're not letting you out.'"

According to the band, the San Quentin gig was not their best. "It was in the daylight," explained Fix, who rarely rises before 5 p.m.

"It was blazing heat," said Rank, "and they had a little speaker for a PA. And imagine, you're looking out there at a mass of 500 people and all I could see were crimes written on their faces: rape, murder, mutilation. All the disgusting side of humanity was sitting there looking at us."

Still one of the top four bands playing the Mabuhaty Gardens, Crime see their current underground reputation as merely a precursor to a much more grandiose future. "We want to be the biggest band in the world," said Frankie seriously. "Other bands are just content to play a small dive. They don't have as much ambition, they don't have the look. They don't have nothin'! If you've got it and you know you've got it, you'll make it."

"See, the thing is, we're a rock and roll band and we're something different to everybody," says Frankie. "Some people call us punks, some people call us rock. We've been called heavy metal?! We've been called a fifties rock and roll band."

"They don't know what to call us," says Rank.

"We're even more than rock and roll," says Johnny Strike with finality in his voice. "We're Crime!"

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