Interview with Dave "Day-Z Daze" Parsons
[Conducted in July 2002]
Owner of Ratcage Records, the label that put out "Pollywog Stew", "Cookie Puss", "Real Men Don't Floss", and the recently released "Ratcage Benefit CBGB's 1982" CD. Now living in Switzerland but still recalling stories from the old days, it's time we had a chat with Dave "Daze" Parsons.
Often the Beastie Boys punk material is referred to as hardcore or New York Hardcore. What is the difference between Punk and Hardcore?
I never was into hardcore as a genre and I hated when the word hardcore began to change from an adjective to a noun...(a subtle thing perhaps that escaped most). When we opened the store it was still called PUNK and the fans and the band members were PUNKS, when we used the word hardcore we meant those punks who formed the core of the scene..Once Ian MacKaye got a hold of the word things began to change.
The Beasties, Reagan Youth (and the early punk bands were influenced by everything from the Beatles to folk music and beyond ---"art punks"
The Beasties were an "art punk" band made up of some of New York's hardcore of punks... and when Agnostic Front got going they called themselves a hardcore band, in the Dischord mold. Hardcore went from being a word to define who was really at the center of things to being a style of music...which I and a few others saw as a backwards step.
Agnostic Front were influenced almost solely by the Bad Brains (who inspired 1000 really bad bands but were a great band themselves who for their part had jazz influences and loved the faster "harder" forms of brit punk such as the Damned and Sex Pistols etc) and by the DC straightedge, and the Huntington Beach bands (Black Flag etc.) When Jerry Williams asked me to make a flyer for 171A advertising rehearsal/recording I drew a picture of the front of 171A and down in the corner I put some "graffiti" that said DC/HB -just as dumb! and "DC rules" was a popular tag with the Georgetown set and they would write it everywhere when they came to NY for shows. I would always write underneath it Yeah that's the problem! NO MORE RULES!!!! Meaning DC was where the federal government convened and we all were well sick and frustrated with the Reagan Administration.
Interestingly the Beasties were accepted by the DC Hardcore and The Ohio Hardcore scenes and Agnostic Front were not. And there began to be a schism between the Hardcore Bands from NY and others from NY like the Beasties...as early as the Kitchen gig we could see the "end" was not too far away (the girls like the ones in Kates circle, the moppy scuds and snotty teens were becoming less and less interested in this skin head evolution and the NY scene devolved rapidly when the Beasties went HIP HOP).
It's my opinion, and I've not met too many others who actually share this view, that the Beasties greatest contribution to Hip Hop beyond the fact that Def Jam used them to open up a white audience was that they brought a snotty bratty punk attitude to hip hop.
I feel that with out the Beasties there could have been no Public Enemy, NWA and perhaps the whole West Coast gangster thing would not have shot forward like it did. I can't be too far off here because the Beasties moved west themselves and you know easy it could have been easy for bands like NWA or Public Enemy to dis them for being white, rich, Jewish and successful, but they never did.
The really early hip hop stuff, at least on record, was always very much a "show business disco" kind of thing and I would even include Run DMC in that faction. They were all more interested in boasting and showing off their latest material acquisitions than delivering any kind of political or social message. "The Message" and "White Lines" were exceptions that proved the rule.
A lot of fans are curious about the resurgence of Ratcage Records. What prompted the new releases?
ME!!! Ha Ha, well what I mean to say is: I started playing the Uke 2 years ago...I played guitar most of my life, but could never seem to advance past a certain point. The entire time lived in New York, I played guitar for a grand total of less than 5 minutes. Then, I bought a ukulele for my then 3 year old daughter. I picked the ukulele up and started playing and my fingers and voice just seemed to find a home there. I have hardly put it down since. Last year I got a lot of attention at the Montreux Jazz festival, which gave me a lot of confidence (delusions perhaps but what the heck). I wanted to do a demo to shop around and get some gigs with and it just took over everything. I had my own (dormant) label Ratcage Records, so it just made sense. I called John Loder at Southern to see if I could have my label back. It was no problem, he wasnt doing anything with it.
Although you put out numerous albums by other bands, the Day-Z Daze recordings Little Tramp and Punk Blues are the first albums of your own. Who are your musical influences and how did they affect either directly or indirectly your new material?
I grew up on rock-n-roll. I mean when I was a little kid and my grandfather bought me a small Emerson radio. I think it was Johnny B Goode or Roll Over Beethoven that blew my mind completely the first time I ever heard it. There was just nothing quite like it before. I started faking sick, so I could stay home and listen to the top forty. Before that I had some really old jazz 78's from my uncle. One was Yellow Dog Blues from 1918, or something like that. I must have played that record 1000 times. That disc probably had more influence on me than any other.
When I first heard those Chuck Berry songs there was a familiarity that I didnt really know at the time and it was that blues structure. What really was hooking me was the occasional 7th on the 1st chord of the progression. It was so full of emotion. But I didn't really know that at the time.Whatever the reason, I was hooked but good. Because of that, I wasnt going to be much good for anything else for the rest of my life.
To list a few influences for the record: "Yellow Dog Blues" by Ben Selvins Novelty Orchestra, Chuck Berrry, Buddy Holly, and more of the regional obscure rock-a-billy groups that we just called rock-n-roll.
Then the 60's arrived and about the only thing worth listening to was Dion and the Belmonts who did The Wanderer and Runaround Sue It was a pathetic time. So pathetic in fact, that I started showing up in class more frequently. So pathetic in fact, that The Beach Boys actually saved it again with some rehashed Chuck Berry riffs. At the time, I just didn't know to go looking for all those great records from the Chess label in Chicago. However, I found them later. Stuff like Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, and of those Elmore James stood out. It is a little hard to believe now, but it was nearly impossible for a white kid from the suburbs to even be aware that this material had existed for sometime. There was such a color line back then. In fact, it was more like a wall than a line. Anyway, the British Invasion sort of opened all that.
So I have to say that the early Rolling Stones albums were a God sent blessing. The Beatles were interesting and the girls really liked them. However, the first time I heard the Stones it was the song Its All Over Now. It just reminded me so much of Yellow Dog Blues. ....Brian Jones was one of my first "heroes." The thing about the Stones was that because their first 3 albums they hadnt produced a hit in the USA, they were still kinda underground. We followed them like a cult and then they had that hit with Satisfaction which kinda destroyed their image.
The Yardbirds were an even greater influence because here was a band that really really rocked. Plus at the same time they could really play, particularly the Jeff Beck version of the Yardbirds. He still is one of my only hero's left. He keeps getting more and more out there with his stuff and his sound. He is considered a virtuoso by a lot of people, like it is a bad thing that he learned his way up and down the fret board. In fact is he was self taught and has invented (practically single handedly) all the noise vocabulary we now take as normal electric guitar sounds. I never considered him a virtuoso, I always thought of him as a lunatic auto mechanic who got a hold of a guitar. He might not be a punk in the true definition, but he definitely has a punk attitude still. I bet no one will agree with me on that. When I grow up I want to be the Jeff Beck of the ukulele. Well , I then got into all that psychedelic stuff and I suppose that is where the political and social relevance thing comes into play. I cant forget the electric Bob Dylan. Blue Cheer are still one of my favorite bands. That first album Vincibus Eruptum (pre-punk) The Velvet Underground- I could write a book perhaps on White Light White Heat alone....now and forever...
Any more influences ?
The Stooges , particularly Funhouse and perhaps even more so Metallic KO here is attitude unchained for the first time....Iggy Pop!! The New York Dolls and then everything went to shit again but lucky for me I had discovered Robert Johnson. I'll never forget the first time I listened to that King of the Delta Blues Singers LP. I don't know of one single other LP that is more powerful and charged with desperate emotion and savvy. and it is an acoustic record!!!. Jeff Beck and Brian Jones were heroes, but here was a GOD or perhaps the DEVIL incarnate.
I don't have a Robert Johnson record in my possession at the moment, but I hear his music in my head every day of my life. I almost forgot everybody else for awhile...back in the day, I'd say to myself when I m a little old man I'm going to be a bluesman like Robert Johnson. It is not working out QUITE like I predicted, but I m not too far off. Te gender issue is getting cloudier and cloudier however. And, the "guitar" has gotten a lot smaller. Then the punk movement "came along.
This fellow from DC was writing a history of hardcore about 10 years ago. I dont think it ever amounted to anything. One of his preliminary questions was, "What was the first punk record you bought? I told him I didnt buy it, my Great Uncle left it to me when he died. It was called Yellow Dog Blues, by Ben Selvin's Novelty Orchestra.
I didn't discover punk or get turned onto it. It just seemed to evolve out of a lot of other stuff that I was already listening to. To me one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time is Never Mind The Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols. It was a very big influence on my life. That was what the first issue of Mouth of the Rat (one page issue) was all about. From that point on, I became personally involved with bands. We were all realizing that we could do it ourselves. A very liberating turn of events and then scenes started springing up all over the country. It was a very exciting time.
The first Time I saw the Bad Brains I had to scrape my jaw from the floor. Here was everything and I mean EVERYTHING rolled into one package. Plus they were actually Black!!! After that, I have to say that my current influences are my closest friends. People who keep reminding there is good reason to go on with life. I sometimes have doubts about that.
Hmmm, I know I've left somebody out... Jimi Hendrix!!!! The natural. The delta bluesman from one of the moons of Jupiter. Johnny Salton of the Psycho Daisies and Popa Chubby (who used to play in Bloodclot with Jerry Williams) have been very influential on me in recent months, I've learned a lot by just being around them. They are both very old friends.
Non Musical influences? Buddha, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh, Thomas Paine, Picasso, AA Milne, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Rick Griffin, John Dos Passos, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, Frank Capra, the Marx Brothers particularly Chico and Harpo., Mabel Normand. (She's the girl on the cover of Little Tramp). Of course there are many others great and small. Im not a Christian in the modern sense, but Jesus of Nazereth's Sermon on the Mount has had a deep influence on how I see life on planet Earth.
Will Ratcage Records ever re-issue any of the old titles or is the label only interested in putting out new sounds?
I really want to concentrate on new music. However, I have been thinking that it might be a good idea to do an anthology of the old stuff. Something like a 2CD set, with 3 or 4 songs from each previous release. It is not a priority and that would be an awful lot of work tracking everybody down. I probably should just do it and those involved are welcome to contact me. We won’t rule it out though, because Southern is sending me a big box full of old artwork and God knows what. All this stuff which was left over from the early days. Most of those records were pretty uneven I'm afraid, but a "best of" might be a good thing and an historical document as well. Don't rule it out. Never say never, but at the same time don't hold your breath.
When you see people paying over $50 for the old Ratcage releases like the Young and Useless Real Men Don't Floss ep, what goes through your mind?
Well that was one of my goals in life. To put out a disc that would be a real collectors item. I wanted to see one of my creations hanging on the wall at Bleecker Bobs at some ridiculously inflated price. I’ve achieved that at least 4 times with: Beastie Boys’ Polly Wog Stew , The Young and Useless’ Real Men Don't Floss, the Neo's, and the Agnostic Front albums. Polly Wog Stew was going for as high as $150 at one point. On the other hand, I wonder where those people were when we were half starving/freezing to death in the back of the store and were struggling to make it to the next month. Of course, it is nothing compared to what we have done to perhaps the greatest painter of modern times. He couldn't even give his paintings away. Back then we sold those records for $1.25 and it was a struggle selling them at that price.
What album or artist would you like to have put out on the Ratcage Records label, but for whatever reason did not?
I tried to put out a solo record by Harley Flanagan (the drummer of the Stimulators). He was a great friend and I felt a kind of father:son kind of thing with him. We were both way-way into the idea and had even got some spec time at a studio. This was long before he went to cal and got his skinhead image. I missed him when I was in NY both times this year. He was one of the few who didn’t bat an eye when I went skate punk drag. Considering his so called reputation for gay bashing that might come as a surprise.
We never realized the project, because Donald Merk, the manager of the Stimulators, blew the whole deal by saying that I would not be allowed to sell the record in the store!!! He said it was "a conflict of interests"!!! I'll go on record here saying that in all my life I don't think I've ever heard a more ridiculous or pointless demand. I’m sorry Harley! It wasn't my fault!!!
I would have loved to put out discs by Reagan Youth. I don't know why we didn’t to this day. Murphy's Law (ditto) and Gilligan's Revenge, who I thought were just a trip and a half. They were twice as geeky as the Beastie Boys could have ever dreamed of being and they were always joking and fooling around in the store.
I always thought the Bad Brains should have been on Ratcage Records, but I think they had "aspirations". I loved them so much. However I have to say that as much as I love and admire HR as a person and performing artist, he single-handedly blew more golden opportunities than any ten other bands with considerably less purpose and talent.
By the way, the Bad Brains helped me out in achieving another one of my lifetime artistic goals. I had dreamed since the mid-sixties of designing a t-shirt that would be worn the world over and the “lightning bolt” design did that big time. It has got to be one of the most bootlegged designs in all of t-shirt design history. It even appears in the Nirvana music video for “Smells Like Teen Cash” I mean “Spirit.”
The guy from ROIR supposedly won an award at a design congress for best cassette package, which I designed to the last detail. Even including the idea of alternating green, red, and yellow colored cassettes. If you wanted it all, you had to buy three!!! I never made one cent off that one. But a goal was achieved and I'm very proud of that cover and drawing. It is based on an idea by Daryl Jennifer and at the time we had to scrape together in order to get a $50 bill to copy the capitol building off of down in the basement RATCAGE at 171A. From its humble beginnings that little drawing has traveled the world and is a star of stage, screen and television. I'm proud of my "baby". And the Bad Brains want me to do a variation of it for the forthcoming Bad Brains Greatest Riffs CD..yeah mon!!!