Monday, June 20, 2011

City Slang: Here, There Be Monsters

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Most Detroit music fans know that MC5 bassist Michael Davis, Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton and artist Niagara used to be in a band called Destroy All Monsters. Most are familiar with the single “Bored”, and the fact that the band metamorphosed into Dark Carnival. That Destroy All Monsters was a gritty punk rock band with elements of performance art. Niagara’s voice was pure monotone nihilism, but the tunes were undeniably melodic. Still, they were gloriously difficult to classify, and they eventually grinded to a halt.

However, if people thought that the Asheton / Davis incarnation of DAM was difficult to pin down, their brains would have melted when listening to the original band. Formed in ’73 by University of Michigan art students Cary Loren, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Niagara, Destroy All Monsters Mark I were experimental in every way, challenging the very definition of what constitutes “music”.

Much like the very early Stooges, early DAM would use household objects and devices like vacuum cleaners and coffee cans, and just see what they end up with. There are elements of very experimental freeform jazz in there, but really it’s impossible to categorize the first version of Destroy All Monsters. That was kind of the point.

From the mid-to-late ‘70s though, Destroy All Monsters was as much an art project as a band, and the music was just one means of expression for those within the group. They also put out six issues of a magazine, naturally called Destroy All Monsters. Those issues, plus a seventh “lost” issue, have been compiled into a book which is available now via the Primary Information publishing house.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the minds of the young people who made such extraordinary music. Niagara’s artistic style is well known by fans all over Detroit and the world, and there are samples of that here. But there is also some very dark poetry, and some notes made by band members as DAM switched over to version II and Loren, Larry Miller, Ben Miller and Rob King formed a band called Xanadu.

The rest of the art is fascinating. It seems dismissive to refer to this as a coffee table book, but that’s really what it is. This isn’t a book to read cover to cover and then put away. You need to pull it out from time to time and just stare at the images while trying to figure out what the artist was thinking. From butchered girly mags and comic books to self-portraits, photographs and psychedelic paintings, this is a great way to actually see the DAM group grow. No amount of prose can do this book justice though. Journey over to Loren’s bookstore, Book Beat in Oak Park, and take a look. If Cary is in, he’ll be happy to chat about it with you.

Don’t forget to join the City Slang Twitter community: @City_Slang

More by Brett Callwood

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