The year was 1977. It took a jaunt in a borrowed jalopy out to Dearborn to find a record store savvy enough to stock the expanding catalog of punk rock 45s creeping out of New York City and the UK. In was then and there that all indicators pointed to a new sonic plateau for Detroit music.
Discerning clerks at shops such as Dearborn Music saw the exploding sound of punk, not only as reason to justify fattening their import sections, or offering choices for the select few who got It, but as a way to unload dust-covered boxes of punk antecedents Stooges and MC5 records stored down in the basement.
Handcrafted fliers for punk (or at least punk-inspired shows) at unlikely places like the Kramer Theater, the Velvet Hammer and the Red Carpet began to make an appearance too, and as curious 7-inchers steadily accumulated, it was only a matter of time before the local version of punk earned a black vinyl stamp.
The first homegrown punk rock waxing came straight out of Clawson, which was fitting because this musical movement was predominately suburban.
The 45? Cinecyde’s “Gutless Radio,” released in 1977 on their own Tremor records.
Snotty as Sir Rotten and pushed forward by a healthy dose of southeast Michigan tumult, the three-minute stab verbally assailed the handful of local radio programmers unwilling (or, perhaps, unable) to elasticize their limited formats.
The self-designed cardboard sleeve saw Cinecyde singer Gary Reichel and guitarist Jim Olenski machine-gunned to bits by the band’s SS-suited drummer, Roger Wesch.
The tongue-in-cheek scene played out against the cinematic backdrop of King Kong, owing much to Cinecyde’s thirst for celluloid, a thirst that’s revealed the in band’s moniker.
“It [the single] was kind of audacious, kind of a slap at the face of the industry,” says Reichel, whose distaste for local radio had been smoldering since childhood.
“I heard ‘Slow Death’ by the Flamin’ Groovies and called [W]ABX and said, ‘Can you guys play this?’ They flat-out said, ‘No,’” he continues. “I was bowled over by the Ramones and they completely shut that down.”
Formed in late 1976 with one foot in the ’60s garage and the other in the Dolls, Stooges, early-Roxy, Velvets quagmire, Cinecyde’s debut single came out concurrently with early punk sides. Though the musical language and attitude are parallel, Reichel says he wrote “Gutless Radio” before he’d ever heard the Damned or the Ramones.
The Cinecyde oeuvre includes a slew of singles that underscored the band’s penchant for reaction, including another cheeky dig at radio called “Rock Meat and the Hard Ons” and a 1989 single, “Burn the Crack House Down” (which was, incidentally, co-written by then-drummer Robert Mulrooney, or, as he’s better known, Bootsey X).
Cinecyde has recently been snatched up for distribution by a couple of Euro labels, who have either released or re-released four of Cinecyde’s Tremor full-lengths — I Left My Heart in Detroit City, Let’s Talk, Magnetic Attraction/Hypnotic Repulsion and You Live a Lie, You’re Gonna Die.
The quartet’s latest title, Like a UFO, serves as an apt descriptor of a local band that has flown low and stuck to its guns despite numerous personnel upheavals, crappy gigs, paltry record sales, and the occasional abduction (Olenski was once carjacked and kidnapped before a gig in 1989).
Cinecyde has made such an impact in certain circles that its own material has been bootlegged on punk comps. Getting your music bootlegged and released is a sign that there is an audience, that somewhere someone recognizes and appreciates your work.
Reichel is nonplussed but flattered. “You think, ‘Wow, somebody thought enough to actually steal it.’ It’s kind of a tip of the hat, but in a backhanded way.”
The hat-tips are well-deserved.
Photographer and drummer Ewolf (who had two stints as Cinecyde’s drummer, once at the end of the ’80s and again in the mid-’90s) has manned the kit for an array of local bands including Angry Red Planet and the Dirtbombs. He says it was Cinecyde’s songwriting that won his respect.
“They could have tried to impress me with blood, fire and trapeze, but it’s the songs that did it for me,” Ewolf says. “Cinecyde has it over a lot of bands that think they’re punk. They’ve been doing what they wanted to do all this time without following the dictates of any scene. That these old guys are up there playing this passionate music should be symbolic.”
If anything, Cinecyde is symbolic of playing music for the right reasons. They still believe in it, in its power to uplift and to change.
“We don’t subscribe to the idea that music is a hobby,” Reichel says. “It’s there, and it can help.”
Cinecyde’s current lineup consists of originals Reichel and Olenski — joint owners of Thomas Video in Royal Oak — bass player Chris Girard, a member since 1981, and relative newcomer Diane Schroeder, who joined the band three years ago.
When Schroeder joined, she learned 15 songs quickly, but soon learned there were many more.
“I think they have a repertoire of about 600 songs,” Schroeder says.
Like Schroeder, Girard came into the band as a fan first. Girard says the addition of Schroeder served to breathe new life into an outfit that was tiring from a series of false starts since original drummer Wesch quit back in 1989.
“Diane had that excitement when she came in. It kind of woke me up,” Girard says. “The chemistry works and the energy is good.”
Reichel says the band has become more productive than ever in the last three years, releasing two full-lengths (produced with the assistance of Schroeder’s husband, sound engineer Matt Downey) in that time.
Although 2004’s Like a UFO represents an evolution from the “Gutless Radio” days, it does maintain the band’s stand-tall, tough sound, sweetened by songwriting contributions from all members.
The 14-song set finds Cinecyde as critical as ever; targets of derision run the corporate America to garden-variety asshole gamut. Sharp and witty songs “Don’t Push Me,” “I Wanna Slap Your Face” and “I Know That It’s Not Fair” are representative of the stone figure Cinecyde’s been chiseling since punk’s peak, balanced nicely with the odd love nugget, as in “Promise You.”
Reichel has remained true to his existential outsiderisms — the roots of punk rock DIY philosophies — and the foundation upon which Cinecyde was built.
“I’m the ultimate outsider in society,” Reichel half-jokes. “It’s not that it’s [society’s] wrong, but what it offers I don’t want.”
For years, the band has stood outside of many things, particularly Detroit as a fashionable setting for fame and notoriety. Just as Cinecyde was never fully embraced by the late ’70s local punk scene it helped to create, opportunities to bask in the white light of the current garage scene have been scant, despite the band’s pedigree and lineage.
“It’s ironic. Trends and fashions go on around them and they’re always on the precipice, always on the verge,” says WDET jock Ralph Valdez. “When I listen to the new [Cinecyde] LP, I almost think it’s too powerful for most people to accept.”
Valdez has brought the band in numerous times for interviews and live-in-studio broadcasts and places Cinecyde squarely in the category of best unrecognized band in Detroit, even after a quarter of a century.
“They were instrumental in the early days for spearheading the whole punk rock movement,” continues Valdez. “They are still doing something very powerful and original. I think seeing them live is key for people to appreciate what they’re doing.”
Cinecyde has also remained true to the DIY ethic with local bands that recorded under the Tremor banner. Between 1979 and 1992, Tremor issued six compilation records, which included Vertical Pillows, the Frames, the Colors, Bootsey X and the Lovemasters, the Boners and the 27, among others. Some of these recordings were among the first by the Volebeats. Reichel would throw live Tremor shows, wherein bands played to raise money for the opportunity to get something on vinyl, and he personally assisted many Detroit bands with their own projects.
Reichel says the cooperative nature of these undertakings inspired him to put in the work and the long hours. He was striving for a sense of community among like-minded bands completely ignored by media, radio and other labels.
“I know that sounds a little hippieish and a little idealistic,” Reichel says. “There was so much working against us, including the major labels. I would hear wonderful music from other bands, and think somebody needs to hear this besides the other bands that show up for shows … It was all for one and one for all. Not that there wasn’t a lot of trouble and fights, but I was bowled over by this eclectic scene. We needed to get it on vinyl.”
Over the years, Cinecyde has fired off a body of work that places them among the higher echelons of bands bearing an original stamp, local or otherwise, be they jazz, blues, rock, or whatever.
Nostalgia being what it is, Cinecyde’s catalog is getting discovered by kids around the world bent on investigating the Motor City’s musical history.
The band, like the music, has survived with biting spirit (and cynicism) intact. Initiated under Coleman Young’s slogans of renaissance, Cinecyde has lived to see the current mayor’s similar claims of renewal. On that end, Reichel’s still not impressed.
“They dish up sports teams here and say, ‘We’re number one,’” he says. Then he adds in a decidedly sardonic tone, as if to answer the local hyperbole, “We’re jackshit, asshole. Detroit? Blow me!”
This story is the tenth part of our Century of Sound series, tracing Detroit’s musical heritage over the last hundred years.Mike Murphy is an area musician and freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]