Flying Turtles of Uranus:

A Capsule Dictators History & Manifesto

By R. Meltzer


Back in the summer of 1970 I was at this Stooges show at Ungano's in N.Y.C. when this kid comes up to me and asks me if I really think Bruce Gamble is a lousy goalie. Turns out the lad was reading Fusion mag where they happened to recently run a picture of me for some reason so he knew from my ears and nose I was the Mad Meltz and I'd just bad-rapped Bruce in a sports piece. Bob Cirkiel was the guy's name--a likable chap--and this pal of his was there too name of Scott Kempner who took my address and started writin me letters. Called me once too to axe me what I thought about UCLA losing to Notre Dame, this was when ND had Austin Carr, that time. Anyway sooner or later I started bringin Scott and his enormous tribe of buddies to press parties, like there was this NRBQ party where I knew the Buddah publicity guy Jim Lichtenberg would be at the door and he was also review editor of Changes at the time so I wrote this quick dumb review of I can't remember what and told him THERE'D BE A FEW MORE PEOPLE COMIN & USIN MY NAME, okay? Okay and so maybe 30 people show up for the semi-homemade Egyptian cookin and I eventually get drunk and run across the top of a table and land on my lower lip causin the tooth to go thru and cut me the fuck up.

Showin off for the guys I guess and the sacrifice of a lip was worth it cause these guys were the greatest teenagers I'd ever known including when I was one myself (and of course also including me, myself & I). Great rockrollers, great fans, great alcohol abusers, great guys & great gals. Great fuckin crew and aside from the great Adny Shernoff who you all know & love by now there was 1. Hank Frank, Jr. (son of Hank Frank, Sr. of Hank Frank & The Seven Hot Dogs) who useta puke every time he had a gin & tonic and later on was so pisspoor at a Dictators drummer audition that everybody left the room including the other wide-eyed hopeful auditionees and 2. the great Dave Uedis whose name I always spell wrong and who was once considered so dumm by the school he was going to that he got put into the so-called DUMM CLASS at which point his mom withdrew him until he got reinstated in the so-called Smart Class and in the interim she'd take him to the local shopping center every day and he'd feel real dumm cause he was the only school-age person in the joint and 3. the great Gary Pallens who was either half or whole Puerto Rican but didn't want nobody knowin' it and later went on to get kicked off the stage by David JoHanson when the latter--as a member of the much-overrated NY Dolls--extolled the throng at the Hotel Diplomat on the virtues of GETTIN DOWN & BOOGYIN and all the guy wanted to do was g.d. & b. up on stage like everybody else (shades of Manitoba vs. Wayne County to come!). Also aboard the ship was the broad Shernoff was porkin at the time, Ms. Amy Tomashevsky who useta pork Scott (Scott was her first, Andy was her second) and who later that nite when we were all back home at my place watchin the Oscars was to express her extreme displeasure when The Last Pitcher Show didn't take it all (after that she went on to call me up a lot from this chiropractor's office where she worked when she got off from high school every day but she was basically a tease and later than that she harvested sugar in Cuba). Etc. INCLUDING OF COURSE THE FABULOUS RICHARD "CHINACAT" BLUM who we currently all know & love as Handsome Dick Manitoba.

Time to reminisce about the band's MUSICAL HISTORY, okay? Okay there was this time Shernoff got it set up for me to do this lecture up at New Paltz for 25 bucks. New Paltz is this state college or somethin in upstate New York and Floyd Patterson lives nearby with his white wife and mulatto kids. Adny was still ANDY at the time, he was puttin out Teenage Wasteland Gazette which still ain't been surpassed in the fanzine dept. and was at least 87 times better than Punk Mag is now and anyway, he gets me this lecture so I take the bus and get there early in the day and get drunk with him and Steve Schenck who's now the Dictators' road manager and was then just hangin around cause he'd already flunked out. They're supposed to get me an "amenable" female companion but they don't, no big deal except all I'm doin as a result is drinking rum, drinking beer and by showtime I can't go on. I just throw a beer into the audience and split to puke outside in the snow and I didn't even get paid but anyway that afternoon while I was hangin around the dorm Shernoff, Cirkiel and I forget who else PLAYED SOME MUSIC FOR ME, this stoopid Fugs type thing called "Sit on My Face" with the three of em on acoustic guitars and do-si-do'ing around and stuff like that. NOT TOO AUSPICIOUS so when a few months later Shernoff's tellin me him and Scott have this real great band and why don't I bring up my buddy BLUE OYSTER CULT MANAGER/PRODUCER SANDY PEARLMAN I'm not really expecting all that much...

But these guys're the Greatest just as guys so after weeks & weeks of Pearlman puttin it off cause he expects nothin (fan of TWG tho) we're finally up there in this off-campus college type shithole and whudda ya know THEY'RE FUCKING OUTASIGHT. Scott's on rhythm and even in this scuzzhouse in fronna maybe five people he's doin his entire Best-of-Townshend acrobat routine and as a rhythm guitarist he's just fuckin outasight, always had it in him and here he was provin it. Great! This guy Ross who I'm not sure if I ever met before was playing lead like a cross between Donald Roeser and Jim McCarty of Mitch Ryder or maybe James Williamson: hot & clear manic lines, lotsa power, good smile. Sharf with an f! Some unknown college crony on drums whose girlfriend spent the entire time outside in the car cause she couldn't dig this rock-roll idiocy. And Adny on bass (passable), vocals (outasight and poignant/funny in as genu-wine teenage a manner as y'ever get) and songwritin. What fuckin songs motherfucker! Lyric sheets were passed around and lemme tell ya Lou Reed and Mr. Pop had nothin on Adny even then. "Fireman's Friend" from the Superman episode of the same name where these crooksters set up a coffee & donut stand for firemen at the scene of the fire so they could sneak in & rob the place. "Back Seat Boogie" with this great line, "I wanna put my sausage in the barbecue pit of the longhaired hippie with the saggy tits." GREAT SHIT! Landmark shit even. Wotta surprise! Whole thing sounded like a cross (lotsa crosses and they were not iron) between the Stooges and the Blues Magoos and so Pearlman started the wheels a-turning to get em on Columbia and eventually settled for Epic.

Thing was Blum himself was NOT a member of that original band. Served as cook (real good) and roadie, but it took some prodding from both ends before A. they'd agree to let him get up there and be the ONSTAGE VERSION OF THE FANTASTIC ASSHOLE HE WAS IN PRIVATE LIFE (did stuff like: get luded out and destroy his entire mom & dad's apartment while they were in Vegas; his famous "SPIT TRICK"; one time he chewed the head off a stuffed duck at a party) and B. he had the gumption to do it himself (a shy, sensitive youngster at the core). Finally he got up and did "Wild Thing" (a tune he knew) at this joint in Brooklyn called Popeye's Spinach Factory (late Eric Emerson was dancing & prancing around that historic nite) and the rest is history: Dick singin monsters like "Weekend" and "Teengenerate" that were written ABOUT him in the first place...

Anyway, the demo that got em signed was done with some Eyetalian drummer named Louie whose feet useta stink up the studio and he always played barefoot. When it came time to cut the elpee they got this jerk named Stu-Boy King to replace him but they didn't get along with him too good either, like he'd go to see the Mets without takin them (his daddy owned King Tomatoes which you mighta heard of and had an entire season box at Shea Stadium, home of the Beatles) and he was just basically a jerk (bleached his hair sometimes too.) Anyway, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!, without any doubt in my mind the first "perfect album" (i.e. no bad cuts) to emerge after LA Woman, went on to sell 7000 copies excluding those wheeled & dealed at Greg Shaw ripoff prices. Definitely one of the 5 or 6 greatest albums of all time (sez me) and when they're finally enormous (won't take long this time around) Epic who dropped em will most likely reissue it so it can go superplatinum...

While we're on the early days: they toyed w/ OTHER NAMES before coming up w/ Dictators (as great a name as, say, the Sex Maniacs or the Pretty Things). Including: Beat the Meatles, Fireman's Friend, Cancer of the Dick (a Blum recommendation, of course), the New York Yankees.

Somewhere along the line they got to do their first post-LP tour featuring a stopover in Winnipeg, MANITOBA--a natural. They drove all the way there from the Bronx and were 2nd-billed to Nazareth. The limey-Scot dogs tho would not let them go on (looked too ominous or something) so the whole fucking drive was for nothin. Round that time things were also happening to em nearer to home like some kids at a Fairleigh Dickinson concert came at em with goddam chairs cause there was something menacing about em. The menace tho was of a wrestling ilk cause like these guys've always known that rock & roll is more than just the conventional breakdown of 1 part R&B and 1 part C&W: equal shares those two and also a share of TELEVISION (which includes WRESTLING in all its various & sundry POSES and they didn't miss a wrasslin show on channel 47 for a good 2-3 years in one stretch back then). So they were just consciously bein "BAD GUYS" and thus were gettin a typically conservative anti-badguy response, y'know? GREAT MOMENTS IN UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS OF IT ALL!!!

Okay so time marches on and they go thru all sorts of breakups & the like including Adny getting sick of having to both play bass & sing (settled by the addition of Mark "The Animal" Mendoza on the old 4-string and Adny movin to keyboards) and of course the endless pursuit of the perfect (i.e. not a smelly jackass) drummer (they now got the great Richie Teeter who they still pick on but boys will be boys) AND FINALLY THE BIG BREAK COMES. Wayne County, one of the more boring but also more "flamboyant" sissy-rockers on the NY scene, bashes Handsome Dick across the snoot with a mike stand at CBGB's for an alleged anti-homosexual remark: pity the poor dirty wrestler! Busted collarbone and 23 stitches but they get blacklisted to kingdom come instead of Wayne and can't get work to save their ass until finally the smoke settles and an anti-Dictator backlash sets in and GIVES EM A WHOLE NEW CAREER AS THE GREATEST AMERICAN BAND SINCE THE DOORS (which they are--and more).

Asylum signs em as part of the first-and-a-half wave of NY signings cause there is a scene they can capitalize on now even tho the Ramones and the Shirts can just take a dump in comparison cause the Dictators are IT (i.e. rock & roll as it was always meant to be--totally functional and totally ridiculous and totally outrageous if that's even the word) but anyway they did get signed and as a result Manifest Destiny now sits on your turntable gettin scratched to shit cause it's even greater'n Girl Crazy: "Science Gone Too Far!" even takes its title word for word from the TV Guide description for Nite of the Lepus starring Janet Leigh, Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun!!! (Shernoff is the greatest genius in the history of the word made flesh/flesh made music, greater'n Lennon or Jagger or--dare I say it?--MORRISON HIMSELF.)

Okay, just preceding the release of the above the Tators take a nice little drive out to the capital of the Age of Aquarius a/k/a San Fran where the nites're freezy. Drove up myself from my new hometown of LA to catch the show along with such fellow big-beat stalwarts as Gene Sculatti, Gregg Turner and the redoubtable Harold Bronson, and the Tators had improved beyond what was already letter-poifect rock & roll by at least an additional thousand percent ... no shit. They broke the two-nite record for this Filipino punkrock joint called the Mabuhay Gardens in only one nite and windows also got broke. Some actual non-BO cultists were singin, "We don't wear no underwear" along with em on "Master Race Rock" and Handsome Dick was introducing "Back to Africa" with a nifty improvised "back to the home of basketball" rap: total professionalism and finally an audience that could dig it to death. Really dug Ross's 720-degree spin-around on the lead-in to "Two Tub Man" and Adny's great teen-pain rendition of "Heartache" and altho Manitoba had a bad ankle he still GOT DOWN LIKE NO ONE ELSE IN THE HISTORY THEREOF (like a bleached sperm whale in heat--true). Thing is Dick's currently a little schizophrenic about onstage costumery, tells ya his famous map-of-Manitoba wrestling jacket in red sequins & fake-satin is too glitter-glammy but he sure does DO MORE while he's wearin it than when he's just wearin boring basic black (send him a letter and let him know).

They did hippie-dippie Berkeley and college-dull Palo Alto too and it hadda be the greatest week of rock & roll I ever spent (INCLUDES nine days with Kim Fowley and even the Doors at Ondine back in early '67 when I was gettin in free for the first time in my life on account of Crawdaddy and eating up every second of it) and all the "How great was Mickey Mantle?" debates and Blum tellin Ross, "I am the star of this band and don't you forget it" were just icing on the cake cause this band makes MUSIC such as you ain't gonna catch elsewhere now that bands really suck the hairy wazoo by goddam DEFINITION almost. WAKE UP AMERICA AND GET WITH YOUR VERY OWN MANIFEST DESTINY. Cause it is your birthright, y'know?

I'm back in LA at this bank in the jew geezer section of town (allowed to use a lower-case j on jew cause I am one myself--confession--just like 4/5 of the Tators) and the lines're goddam endless. Finally I'm up to where this jew geezer "guard" is standing and he spots my Tators t-shirt. "I don't like that shirt", sez the dying but still ambulatory cretin, "dictators, I don't like that, what is it?" "Rock band." "That's even worse, why don't they play music like they did in the old days, it made you feel good inside"--he's sneerin at me like I'm some kinda scum comin into his bank like he owns the joint or somethin--"this new stuff just makes people go crazy." Didn't see the "Go Girl Crazy" rear of the shirt or his suspicions woulda been more than confirmed but the only reason I didn't pop the shorty in the dentures was the Dictators themselves've all got jew geezer parents or grandparents of their own back in the Bronx and Queens and I don't think they'd approve of me poppin the pathetic pensioneer cause he could just as easily've been one of their own. Above all else THE DICTATORS ARE TEACHERS OF TOLERANCE.