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The word "community" gets bandied about a lot in pop music circles, the sense that bands playing in a certain genre — and often their fans — are all in it together, that they belong to a supportive subculture. But what happens when someone in that community needs help?
Chris Doherty, singer-guitarist for Gang Green, was a vocal and volatile member of the Boston hardcore punk rock community of the early- to mid-'80s. On Halloween, Doherty, who now lives in Cincinnati (and has a Midwest version of Gang Green there), was felled by a stroke that left him temporarily unable to speak and paralyzed on his left side.
Doherty, now 53, had brain surgery and just completed in-house rehab. He is able to move his left leg and fingers. The day we talked, at the end of December, he’d had his last session of speech therapy and completed a three-hour rehab, walking 51 feet.
While to an outsider the hardcore punk scene might not have been known for its warmth and cuddliness — with its slam-dancing, stage diving and mosh pits — there was a genuine sense of affection that came with the aggression. Out in the audience, it was a contact sport; an unrefereed rugby match to jackhammer tempos. If someone was knocked to the floor, most often that person would be quickly pulled up by peers in the pit.
In a larger sense, that’s what happening with Doherty now. When they heard of his stroke, Gang Green’s former manager Alec Peters and independent Boston booker Sean McNally set out to do what had to be done. They joined with Gang Green’s current manager Dean Jackson to organize a benefit concert, a 10-act bill at the Paradise in Boston on Friday, Jan. 11, that draws from the hardcore world and beyond. It’s called “Not a Wasted Night,” a take-off on the Gang Green EP called “Another Wasted Night.”
“Chris’ attitude is great for a guy that's facing a long road to recovery,” says Peters. “He has serious motor function problems on his left side that the doctors tell him will take at least a year to get better. And he has no insurance. They dropped him.” Peters says they hope to raise $25,000 at the benefit, and notes Dropkick Murphys have already made a substantial contribution.
On tap at the Paradise: Slapshot, Tree, the Outlets, the F.U.s, Worm, Unnatural Axe, the Dogmatics and White Dynomite. Topping the bill — but playing third to last — is a Gang Green tribute band called the Skate to Hell Band, five of the members having logged time in Gang Green. Each band — all with Boston area connections — will play 15 to 20 minutes, with Skate to Hell possibly stretching to 25.
“All these people pitching in to help out, it means the world to me, especially laying in this hospital bed as long as I have,” says Doherty, on the phone. As of Monday, he was still rehabbing in the hospital, but plans to fly out to attend the show.
Hardcore punk was spawned in Los Angeles in the late-‘70s, but scenes soon developed in most major cities, Boston very much included. A combative compilation album of Boston bands of the day was called “This is Boston, Not L.A.,” which featured seven Gang Green tracks. Hardcore arose for various reasons. Some of the first-generation punk bands had splintered or moved away from their roots. Post-punk rock took an artsier, more angular tack. Quirky, more accessible “new wave” music captured the nascent MTV audience. The hardcore punk bands — many formed by teenagers, the metaphorical younger brothers of the original punks — bit back with a vengeance with songs often under or hovering around two minutes. Hardcore was a leaner, meaner, messier and speedier offshoot of punk. Melody took a backseat to fury.
“The music was a lot more linear than punk, faster, with a lot less humor, a lot less sexuality,” says the F.U.’s singer John Sox, adding the Boston hardcore scene satisfied “a primordial urge to leave the nest. You feel this impatience. You get angry for no reason. You don’t understand yourself. You’re being socialized and it’s confusing you and marginalizing you. You look for this positive outlet, that’s what hardcore was: a creative outlet for the misdirected anger and impatience."
Hardcore was, unquestionably, a male-dominated genre. In the hardcore realm there were both “straight edge” bands — no booze, no drugs — and there were, well, “no edge” bands, where booze and drugs helped fuel the chaos. Gang Green led the charge in the latter group.
Gang Green’s logo was a knockoff of Budweiser’s logo at the time. Their best-known song was “Alcohol,” a nasty paean to drinking — proudly proclaiming it better than anything carnal — and snorting cocaine. Oh, and scoring the beer and coke for free. (Various bands from the Dropkick Murphys, the Meatmen, Tankard and Bad Brains have covered the song. Metallica used to play it in concert.)
“It was my life, it was my lifestyle,” says Doherty. “It was the ‘80s and we were all there. If I can survive the ‘80s, I can survive from a stroke.” He’s been to drug and alcohol rehab. As to where he is now, he says, “I’ve trimmed way back, let’s put it that way.”
Gang Green was always Doherty’s group. There are at least 13 former members, and the Midwestern quartet he currently fronts. “Chris was a madman on stage running around like Angus Young of AC/DC,” says the Dogmatics singer-guitarist Jerry Lehane. “A man of few words, but solid.”
Gang Green gained a measure of notoriety for their ferocious – and lyrically twisted – version of ‘til tuesday’s big hit, “Voices Carry.” From the stage of the Orpheum Theater during WBCN’s Rock and Roll Rumble in 1986, Gang Green played their raucous, revved up and even more rage-fueled version of the song, one where Doherty strangle-sang, “When I tell her that I’m falling down drunk what does she say?”
Despite a cease-and-desist directive, the band kept playing the song, according to Glen Stilphen, Green Gang’s bassist at the time who is playing in Skate to Hell.
Former ‘til tuesday singer Aimee Mann says, in a recent email, “I don’t remember having a HUGE reaction, because I’m not sure I even listened to it at the time … my reaction NOW is that their more punky, grinding approach actually suits the song pretty well. I would say I definitely prefer their version to ours, truth be told.”
Virtually all movements in pop music begin in youth. That’s where the spark is lit and the fire ignites. And the subject matter often revolves around what matters most to the musicians, their peers, their fans. Sometimes, often, the movement sputters out; other times it takes hold and turns into a genre that’s taken up by several generations. And sometimes there’s a question of how these youthful concerns relate to the musicians and fans as they age. As to Gang Green’s bursts of drug-and-alcohol fueled musical mayhem …
“I’m about as far removed from that as you could possibly be,” says Stilphen, now 50, who will join his older brother guitarist Chuck at the Paradise. (The Stilphens, along with drummer Walter Gustafson, were part of what’s considered by most, the classic lineup.) “We’ve got these songs that are so dumb, you just have to put it aside, the ridiculousness of it, the stupid lyrics. I have my issues with all the drinking songs and all these friggin’ songs are about drinking.”
Covering Gang Green’s songs present other challenges. Stilphen says that singer-guitarist Bob Cenci, once of Jerry’s Kids and the 2005-2007 Gang Green, just couldn’t sing certain songs with the Skate to Hell Band. In rehearsals, Cenci said, “I wanted to see if I could play and sing them - that is see if I could pull ‘em off cause some of ‘em are so fast, ‘Snob,’ for one, a challenge to play and sing, but I eventually got it.”
That brought in singers Dave Tree from Tree and Keith Bennett from Panzerbastard. “We had Keith and Dave trading vocals and decided that they added to the dynamic something a bit more than I could offer,” Cenci adds.
That raises the question about what this genre of music, very much of its time and place, will sound and feel like today.
“This will sound corny,” Sox says, “but when I go back into that dark space, I’m recreating a past me for the purpose of giving someone who is as lost as I once was, that same feeling of ‘Whoa, it’s not just me!’ … This was like a beacon to me — that it was OK to be outside looking in and to not fit in. In fact, it was something to be celebrated.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story indicated that the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando would be part of the event, but we got word he won't make it. The post is updated.
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