BONZE ANNE ROSE BLAYK f/k/a Kevin Eric Saunders of THE ANGRY SAMOANS interview by Brad & Lucy for Mystery Island Publications
LUCY: Hi Bonze! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us on Mystery Island. How are you feeling? What did Bonze Blayk eat for breakfast today?
BARB: Oh, I feel most excellent! For breakfast… I had a cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing, along with my usual six cups of coffee. (Ordinarily I start my day with a toasted poppy seed bagel and cream cheese; I was out of bagels… sigh).
LUCY: Poppy seed bagels rock.
BRAD: Okay, now that the most important – like back of a 60’s LP – question is out of the way – let’s dig into a little Saunders history. When did you and your brother, Mike, decide it would be super bitchin’ to start making music?
BARB: Very early on when we were young, and it was obviously the absolute coolest thing imaginable (outside of killing Nazis, that is!). We started off jamming with the neighbors on plastic bats to Beatles tunes (no kidding). Mike got hooked on music early on, and we listened to the radio every night before going to sleep… on KAAY-AM (Little Rock), WLS-AM (Chicago), and other stations.
LUCY: Plastic bats & Beatles songs, that's awesome! What was your favorite album as a teenager? Do you really like Rush? Cuz I do :).
BARB: I LOVE RUSH! Most sincerely, that band, and Neil Peart's lyric sensitivity and sincerity, have served as a balm for my heart (and a better-than-adequate excuse to ROCKOUT!)
But I think I must acknowledge that my favorite album as a teenager was Blue Öyster Cult, their eponymous first album, and that my favorite song was “Before the Kiss, A Redcap.” And do you know what? It's still very near the top of my list!
BRAD: I like "Godzilla" but I'm probably influenced by Monster Island. Tell us what/how you ended up in Van Nuys. I was in Reseda at the time, just before shipping out with the Navy, and I believe we at least had some passing friends in common as I kept hearing about these “Saunders Brothers” starting trouble.
BARB: I came out to spend the year applying to grad schools and starting up a band with Mike, with the promise of a $30 sublet of Mike's garage and a guaranteed half-time job working as a bookkeeper… for Mike, who was Acting Controller of the Community Hospital of North Hollywood. Mike had rented the house in Van Nuys sometime after he got that job, and rented out bedrooms to folks… mostly friends.
But… (sputter) “We NEVER, but NEVER!, started trouble… TROUBLE started US!”
LUCY: Right. Did you and Mike get along growing up? Do you love your brother?
("Kev" the little guy and the future "Metal" Mike Saunders).
BARB: We got along reasonably well most of the time, though of course there was friction… as must be expected with two different species of “genius.” I love Mike, but he is often a royal pain in the ass, since he's generally 100% committed to his own program… which sometimes doesn't make much sense.
I mean, seriously… did I try to set him straight back in 1979? Of course I did!
“Mike, are you intending to cut out ALL the guitar solos? Mike, that does NOT MAKE ANY SENSE AT ALL!”
BRAD: Blame it on Johnny Ramone. The term punk is often ambiguous at best. When, if at all, did you guys realize you guys were an integral part of an emerging new style of rock & roll? INSIDE MY BRAIN is not just 100% first wave genuine punk but considered part of the genesis of hardcore punk, yes?
BARB: INSIDE MY BRAIN as originally released is part of the genesis of hardcore punk, but when I was in the band, it was more like… garage metal? Yeah, I think that would be an accurate characterization! But seriously, if you listen to our original demo recording critically, I believe we were dealing out the Detroit High-Energy vibes.
But when we played Rhino Records on May 12, 1979, and did the second set with fast, really fast, tempos, it was an epochal event… which set the pace for the up-tempo trimmed-down trend in the Samoans, which was only truly implemented after I left and was replaced by P.J. Galligan as first guitarist.
BRAD: "Wild Thing" is crazy good garage rock from that Rhino set!
LUCY: Was the L.A. punk scene ever actually scary, in terms of performing?
BARB: Not at the time I was playing… we never played for any “punk audiences”… indeed, hardly at all for any audiences! (I was never even in The Masque, which was closed… having now seen photos, had I been tempted into paying a visit, I would have turned about-face and departed at a genteel pace at first sight of that sorry-assed graffiti-strewn dump).
But L.A. in general was scary… I suffered close brushes with death by random violence, I dunno, twice? Three times? In ONE year? While doing nothing that was especially dangerous? Sheesh!
BRAD: Were you still performing with the Samoans when Rodney Bingenheimer started throwing tantrums about you guys? When we interviewed Mike, I didn’t want to rehash the controversy, but people keep asking about it, so can you enlighten our readers as to what actually went down? What was the impetus for Mike writing “Get Off the Air”?
BARB: I was in the band when we first started performing “Get Off The Air!” in February 1979. Rodney's fit was in the future, since he was unaware of the song until later on…
Mike and Todd and Gregg wrote the song directly after Rodney's dreadful Christmas Eve show in 1978… we all listened because the Kessel Brothers were on, and they were supposed to play “Tonight's My Night” by our friends' band, Tremors, which they had produced.
That show was dreadful, truly “Four hours of Phil Spector rot!” Rodney was digging up all this totally atrocious vintage vinyl that Spector had produced (so much for “genius”!)
LUCY: Spector sucked the juice out of everyone who worked for him. Are the rumors true about Rodney in terms of his predilection for kids? I mean, would you actually call him a pedophile?
BARB: Ah, the truth is: I don't know. But I do believe the photographs from the era of Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco “Tell The Story”… you can view them in the links I provide in my Blayk Vistas blog entry on this topic:
Get Off the Air
BRAD: Why did you stop playing lead guitar for the Samoans? Was it a school consideration? You had already attended the University of Texas, so was it Cornell calling?
BARB: It was pretty much in the cards from the beginning. My project for the year was submitting applications to graduate school PhD programs in Economics… I applied to half a dozen graduate schools, and Cornell wound up subsidizing my ticket. UCLA failed my cut by proving to be a bureaucratic nightmare when they processed my application with the ineptitude I found typical of government organizations in California, so I was not going to stick around L.A. and attend UCLA for the sake of some dumb band with what Frank Zappa referred to as nullis pretiis — “No commercial potential.”
I passed through the program at Cornell in less than three months… it was that bad! (MISFIT!)
The truth is that it was Ithaca calling!
LUCY: Tell us about developing software at Cornell? That is so cool.
BARB: It was a great opportunity to get paid developing software, something I love to do… at least when I'm smoking pot. I was in on the ground floor of the Internet Revolution!
Well, truth to tell, it was kind of a basement. Comme ci, comme ça… but I got to work on the software foundations of the Internet, or at least a temporary COMETary ramp that assisted in the buildout of this ever-shifting global meta-structure that has replaced our réalité banal with the marvels of hyper-(blah blah blah).
I'm not smoking pot anymore, hence my evolution into a largely-incomprehensible artiste de performance… exhibiting a deep and abiding commitment to evading the “common sense,” wherever it transpires.
BRAD: Tell us about your musical experience post Angry Samoans. Still as fun?
BARB: Not as notorious, but lots more fun, since there were far fewer personality conflicts. Playing with my friends in Auld l'Anxiety was a wonderful growth experience for me, and hanging with physicists — people who are definitely smarter than I am — is both fun and educational.
Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks publicly to Chris O'Grady, our bassist, who got it all organized and provided crucial motivation to my development as a musician… the nudges I required to start singing and writing my own material. Chris, Dave, Brian, and Rand are all wonderful people and excellent musicians, to boot!
Besides performances available on my YouTube channel — RADIO BARB — there is now something resembling a formal collection of material I've written and performed on available on the Bad Trip Records web site, including Auld l'Anxiety and “DynaSoar Space Blues (Manned Space Glidebomber)”:
BAD TRIP RECORDS
Judge for yourself! It's free!
And if you think it sucks, there is no digital landfill poisoning our groundwater: into your computer's Trash it goes, and whooosh! Out of your life… except maybe for some bad memories ?-)
… it is not for no reason this label is named Bad Trip Records …
LUCY: We’re raising four kids in a mix of punk rock and suburbia. How does your daughter feel about having a punk rock dad and a punk rock uncle?
BARB: She's old enough to be awesome on her own now… she graduated from the New School in NYC in January and is working as a Production Assistant on a TV show!
However, those familial relationships provided bragging-rights-by-affiliation for much of her younger life. It's certainly a conversation starter, right ?-) No kidding, kids she met from the age of about 10 years old on would recognize the connection: “Your dad played in the Angry Samoans, right?”
Kids know these things! How? Don't ask me… I'm not a kid!
LUCY: Our nine-year-old wore her original (Metal Mike made) "Angry Samoans Bad Girl" shirt just the other day :).
BRAD: When was the last time you and Mike played together?
And who the heck did those Samoans covers of other bands: “Highway to Hell,” and “Buddy Holly,”? Doesn’t sound like you or Mikey vocal-wise.
BARB: Oh gee, that would be about 10 years ago now… only we weren't playing guitar; we were testing out the Jaminators I had bought Mike for Christmas off eBay!
The vocals on those tracks are by the awesome Jonathan Hall, guitarist and songwriter of Backbiter stoner-rock power-trio fame… Heath, the Samoans' bass guitarist for some years, is also in Backbiter.
I never sang with the Samoans, aside from some abortive mis-adventures with VOM's “God Save the Whales” in our earliest live performances.
LUCY: When did you become Bonzie as opposed to or in harmony with Kevin?
BARB: I tagged myself as “BONZO” back in 1974 early in my first year at the University of Texas at Austin… and the name both stuck, and evolved…
Frankly, “Kevin” never really existed in the form of the normally-male person one would expect from the name; like most severely transgendered folks, I disliked my given name, and nowadays I actively loathe being addressed as “Kevin”… since 1990, I have only used the name when it's imposed upon me by circumstances. Unlike many other late-transitioning transsexuals I habitually presented as an androgyne; I was never conformist enough to bend to society's pressure to present as a really masculine man-type guy in a futile attempt to compensate for my “shortcoming” of being a woman-identified male.
Eighteen months ago I decided to transition, having waited fourteen years after I knew I needed to do so, and I am INCREDIBLY FUCKING HAPPY TO ANNOUNCE that as of today, Monday August 29, 2011, I am in receipt of an INDIVIDUAL ADULT NAME CHANGE ORDER – INDEX NO.: 2011-0586 in the Tompkins County records, authorizing my right to legally assume the name “Bonze Anne Rose Blayk” … YAY!
Even Mom Saunders has compromised on this to the extent of calling me “Kev”, which I find tolerable. (Coming from a family member, that is! Otherwise… grrrrr).
LUCY: That's awesome, Bonze!
BRAD: What kind of guitar do you play and why?
BARB: For hard rock I play SERAS, my Steinberger GL4TA, because it is the most awesome guitar ever made (for me). And yes, Buck Dharma plays Steinbergers, and it is all Buck's fault that I bought one after seeing him perform with The Red and The Black in The Rongovian Embassy in nearby Trumansburg back in December 1989. No Kidding!
But I just upgraded my black Strat, Grette, with Fender SCN pickups, and for blues and such she's now much the better guitar.
“I play the blues, because I have lived the blues; and I have lived the blues, because I am truly 'some kind of dumbfuck' … it would be inappropriate, I believe, in a family-oriented publication such as yours, to specify exactly what kind of 'dumbfuck' I am, but you may safely assume that it is one of the deeply disturbed varieties.” - bonze blayk
LUCY: What song do you like to play guitar on the most and what’s your like super duper most favorite Angry Samoans song and why?
BARB: Ah, preferences such as “my favorite song to play” are too hard to assess in that fashion… if I play a song, I get into it! If I don't get into it… I'm not inclined to play it!
Eddie… Eddie! LET GO MY ARM! … myfavoritesongtoplay is “Where Will I Get Off Tonight?” (Ouch! Who knew a metaphysical half-nelson could hurt so much?)
Pretty obviously, my favorite Angry Samoans song of all time is my brother's “Right Side of My Mind”, which is the Top-40 hit tune that was a bit too late for its proper era (1967?), and the source for one of my favorite tag lines:
“I WANT ALL THE TRUTH!” - Bonze Anne Blayk
BRAD: Who would win in a fight, Ricky Martin or Jennifer Lopez?
BARB: The audience!
LUCY: Is it easier to play guitar when you wear a skirt?
BARB: It depends on the skirt!
Actually… nah, it's not really easier, primarily due to constraints relating to skirt-length and modesty which are socially mandated for a gal my age, to which I defer out of a desire not to appear totally ridiculous!
But… my performances are about flash, not “virtuosity”, and flesh, not “spirituality”, so as a trans woman with well-regarded legs… I'm inclined to wear skirts.-)
LUCY: Skirts are rad.
BRAD: Why are the Samoans angry? [I just realized this is actually Billy Hinsche's (of Dino, Desi, & Billy) question as he asked it of me awhile back] :)
BARB: Because this idiotic box of dolts is further denigrating the dignity of real Samoans by encouraging the false and degrading stereotype of Samoans as violent berserkers. I always tried to answer peeved emails from Genuine Samoans with a mild-mannered response… a gentle answer turneth away wrath…
On the other hand,… I don't think any Samoans are even aware that there was a person who would almost surely qualify as a fa'afafine in the band? (I wasn't either until eight months ago, when I first learned that the Samoans have a “third gender” role provided for feminine males!) And thus the band was, in a bizarre way, at least a bit in line with Samoan culture?
LUCY: Any lasting thoughts? What are you going to have for dinner tonight?
BARB: Many, far too many enduring Blaykish ponderings to discuss here… but I want to note especially:
“Any tape sufficiently sticky to adhere properly is too sticky to handle.”
AND the all-important
COROLLARY TO BLAYK'S LAW:
My advice? DWELL ON'T. (I am pretty certain that Mmse. Hell is just such a “babe”, no?)
BRAD & LUCY: THANK YOU! Out of all the Bonzie's we know -- you're the most Bonzoriffic!
LUCY: Uh oh, I almost forgot. Stan Lee of the Dickies told me not to forget to ask you your favorite ice cream flavor!
BARB: Breyer's Natural Vanilla slathered with Hershey's Chocolate Syrup (sweetened with genuine sucralose!)
And as for what I'm having for dinner tonight? THAT'S IT!
Thanks very much to your Mystery Island Crew for the interview!
Bonze Anne Rose Blayk
Digital Executrix / Bad Trip Records