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Revival Meeting: The Chrome Cranks


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:56 pm

Getting the band back together is one of the most tired clichés in rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, few images are more pathetic than that of a squad of long-in-the-tooth never-say-dies stumbling back onstage one more time, vainly attempting to rekindle their post-adolescent glory waaay too many years after the fact. When he looks in the mirror, how the heck does a graying Iggy Stooge or Johnny Rotten reconcile the guy he sees with the one he can no longer be; the young gunslinger who burned with hormonal angst, hoped he’d die before he got old? It just seems wrong, the whole middle-aged “comeback” thing. And yet there was I, your mild-mannered music editor, about to contribute to this very epidemic by putting my own adult dignity on the line in front of a paying audience. Was I insane?

A little background. For the better part of the 1990s, I was the singer and guitarist of the Chrome Cranks, a four-piece band that—quoting my writer bio here—blended the blues and punk with all the subtlety of a concrete road saw. During our hectic time together we released five albums, toured Europe and North America incessantly, appeared on several movie soundtracks, and even had one of our videos played on primetime MTV.

Guitarist William Weber and I started the band in the late ’80s in our hometown of Cincinnati. In 1992, after trying to figure out a sound and dithering endlessly with unsuccessful lineups we finally moved to New York, where we recruited former Honeymoon Killers leader Jerry Teel as bassist. With a succession of drummers we started playing out, released a couple of singles, and before long had a pretty healthy buzz happening on the Lower East Side. After our debut album came out in 1994 ex-Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore drummer Bob Bert joined and we went into overdrive, touring like Vikings, building a considerable following, and pumping out records like rounds from an automatic. The band didn’t radically reinvent rock music or anything, but we definitely had something special.

“The Chrome Cranks had an impossible-to-ignore sound: the snarl of punk, the pained howl of the blues, the immediate rush of classic garage rock,” writes former Time Out New York music editor Mike Wolf. “In their music you could hear all of these things, yet there was nothing even vaguely retro going on—onstage the group was so piercingly in the moment that it was almost unbearable. Watching them play felt freeing.”
But unfortunately artistic success alone doesn’t pay the bills. And as far too many others know, playing music—especially the commercially uncompromising kind—is a tough way to make a living. Combine this with the myopic, Ahab-like vision of me circa then, plus a vanload of unhealthy passive-aggression, and you have yourself a ticking time bomb. A Metallica-style band therapist beyond our means, we finally imploded in the spring of 1998.

After the breakup the rest of the guys kept playing, in other bands. I tried to put something new together but by then my rock ’n’ roll heart had given out, and the idea of spending a couple of years on the couch sounded just fine. I did what so many recovering rockers do: got married, grew a beard, moved upstate, got a divorce. Ho-hum. Somewhere in there, though, I reconnected with writing and took some refresher courses. From there I ended up getting jobs at a couple of newspapers and eventually signed on with Chronogram in 2006. By then I had become a full-on junkie for musical knowledge but yet I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with actually playing music, especially rock ’n’ roll. The very thought was a painful reminder of my crushed dreams. And anyway, I told myself, playing rock ’n’ roll was for kids. Anyone in my age bracket or above and still doing it was either tilting at windmills or punching the clock. Best, then, just to grow up and move on.

Of course I was in denial. Deep down, I would’ve given absolutely anything to have the band back together. But I hadn’t spoken to most of the guys in years, and the idea just didn’t add up against the person I thought I’d become.

And then something weird happened. In 2007 Atavistic Records put out Diabolical Boogie, a two-CD set of Chrome Cranks demos, videos, and rarities. The renewed interest from the release held a revelation: It seemed that although the group had never even glanced the mainstream, we’d definitely left an impression in some spots. A lot of younger bands, especially in Europe, were citing the Cranks as an influence, even performing and recording our songs. I did some interviews to promote the album and was repeatedly asked about a possible reunion. Still, I told anyone who asked it’d be the proverbial cold day in Hades before we ever got back together.

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