The Lanternjack’s shouter, Johnny Flash, is well on his way. He’s riled up, pissed off, tanked. He looks around the crowded Magic Stick from his bar-stool vantage, shakes his head and chirps, “This place is fuckin’ gayrod, dude.” He stops, shakes his shaved and knit-capped head and shouts in a voice so huge that it completely contradicts his diminutive stature, “Throw mee ouuut!” People waiting to order drinks pitch twisted looks and move away.
“Fuck this shiiiit …”
When Flash drinks, he becomes lizardlike. His presence appalls many around him. It’s a reaction he wants, nurtures even.
Onstage, Flash expresses an unflinching gall that entices fans to vandalize and break stuff and, above all, to wreak havoc on the band itself. At The Lanternjack shows, particularly in smaller venues, crowd input is common. And Flash’s onstage hysterics have gotten him booted from half the venues in Detroit. His insults have put him in harm’s way among rednecks and punks alike.
A recent ruckus in Buffalo goes lengths to illustrate The Lanternjack’s cause and effect.
“The first time we went out to Buffalo, Flash got punched in the face, onstage, by a girl,” explains guitarist Lukewood, who joined the band eight months ago after the original guitarist walked. “He just laughed at her. That pissed her off. Then her best friend — who was the promoter of the show — put her cigarette out on his back. He’s got a scar there. There were glasses flying at me. I almost had my knee taken out. The crowd got into it and actually turned on the girls.”
After said show, the band had all its gear lifted from its rented van.
“All our shit got jacked,” continues the 23-year-old guitarist. “Still, it was the best show I’ve ever played in my life. The next time we went back to Buffalo, Flash slept with the promoter.”
After the Buffalo debacle, there was brief mention of a benefit to raise money to help the band purchase new gear.
“Who would play a benefit for us?” snickers Flash, no irony intended.
“We just scraped and borrowed to get new gear,” says Lukewood. “Got some credit cards and maxed them out.”
Spiders and masks
Rockwood is a blue-collar Downriver town that was built on day-job drudgery and factory-worker blood. Johnny Flash is the only son of a retired steelworker. Flash still lives with his dad in the only home he’s ever known. When the band rehearses in the basement, Flash’s old man cranks up the volume on the big screen upstairs. When the band stops, the TV blares.
Lukewood’s dad works the lines at Ford. He fixes robots.
“Basically he sits in a lawn chair until something breaks,” chuckles Lukewood.
Following in his old man’s footsteps ain’t exactly how Lukewood sees his life unfolding in The Lanternjack.
“Our goal is to get the hell out of here,” he says. “We don’t want to have day jobs.”
The Lanternjack’s basement practice digs open out to a shady spot along the Huron River, a tranquil scene that is the antithesis of the band’s rattletrap sound: thick green, mosquitoes and dense vines.
Inside The Lanternjack’s dimly lit, red-hued space is a U-shaped bar, behind which are myriad empty beer cans and wine bottles. There’s a pool table and some couches in the corner; the place is overrun with spiders. There’s a weedy smell of moss and cigarettes.
“I sleep on the couch and let the wolf spiders crawl all over me,” equivocates Flash.
The band’s gear is set up off to one side. The band steps up and rips through newer songs. One (“Thighs”) is by far the hookiest song the band has coughed up.
The Lanternjack’s two self-released discs — 1998’s Little Beast and last year’s Hussy — have gotten favorable nods in underground zines around the country. Lately the band has been getting verbal blow jobs from various record labels.
The Lanternjack sound? At best, think riff-riddled Doors and vintage Cult. Flash understands how Jim Morrison had cock. Live, the band’s sex-and-drink narratives take on new life, and the bass/guitar/drum backup provides Flash ample space and time.
With his shaved head, lithe bassist Larry Lava is all elbows and cheekbones. He pounds along the beat with a studied poise.
Drummer Holy Goat — who works days at a costume shop — once showed up at a Halloween gig wearing a goat mask. He’s not lost the mask since.
With shoulder-length auburn-tinted black locks, Lukewood looks like a young Jimmy Page. By day, he works the counter at a guitar shop.
And Flash — adore him, abhor him, call him drunk and contrived (and regardless of whether the rest of the world ever discovers it) — is a rock ’n’ roll star.
There’s nothing else in life for him. Flash has that rare quality — that natural allure — that makes people want to know more about him. It’s a quality that will probably finish him before he gets old.
Offstage and sober, he’s polite: remembers names, says thank you, offers drinks.
Live, the front man secretes a stilted, almost ugly sexuality. He skulk-walks the stage in slow, hunched-over movements — a manifestation of Renfield and Iggy.
Hate and love
The band is often wretched; sometimes a slow, joyless dirge that can seem unending. Other times, the band can be great. It’s that very unpredictable dichotomy of awful/awesome that makes The Lanternjack worthy.
In Detroit, more people hate them than love them. The band is slowly building a following in satellite cities, slowly coming into its own.
Actively unemployed, Flash spends his days recovering from the night before and writing songs.
“I wrote three songs today,” he says, stepping outside his basement lair.
Here’s a guy who’d rather spin yarns about road trips gone awry involving weed and cops than talk about the actual act of penning songs and lyrics. He’s expressive and his storytelling abilities border on the remarkable.
“Just upriver they used to make Agent Orange” the singer explains with a shoulder-shaking snicker. “So there was all this Agent Orange dioxin in the water. My uncle would go fishing here, and once he pulled up this giant carp that would be covered in chemical burns.”
“Dude, you can get muskrat dinner here around,” he continues. “It’s all the factory workers who moved up here from Kentucky. They gotta have the muskrat.”
“Sometimes, it’s like I’m the protector,” guitarist Lukewood says later, showing concern for his bud and band mate. “I drive him around. He really doesn’t take a night off (from drinking). And he’s the healthiest guy in the band. It’s weird.”
The Lanternjack will perform at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit) on Friday, June 21. For information, call 313-833-9700.Brian Smith is Metro Times’ music editor. E-mail him at [email protected]