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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

‘Like Family’

True stories from Milwaukee’s punk scene

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Milwaukee always lacked the size and numbers of Chicago, but when punk rock emerged at the end of the ’70s, our modest metropolis punched above its weight and nurtured more good bands than our neighbor to the south. Interest in Milwaukee’s early underground scene has grown in recent years: collectors from around the world are seeking out rare singles and fanzines, and Milwaukee musicians and fans are taking time to remember. The website and WMSE show MilwaukeeRockPosters.com and the Lest We Forget concert and CD are among the manifestations of this local nostalgia. Now comes the tell-all (or almost all) book, an oral history called The Cease is Increase.

Author-editor Steve Nodine played in Dark Façade in the early ’80s; the book came out of conversations between him and Die Kreuzen’s Keith Brammer. “Between his job and the band,” Nodine says, referring to Die Kreuzen’s resurgence after playing Lest We Forget, “he decided to step aside. I didn’t realize how much time I’d have to commit to it.”

It took three years—from recording interviews with scores of musicians and participants (full disclosure: I was interviewed) to shaping and arranging those interviews into a coherent, stream of consciousness account, plus all the usual copy editing chores in the homestretch before publication.

The year zero for Milwaukee punk is usually reckoned as 1978, when Jerome Brish (aka Presley Haskel) convinced club owner Damian Zak to give his band, The Haskels, a chance. Before long the East Side bar called Zak’s North Avenue became Milwaukee’s CBGB. Like anyone learning to be a historian, Nodine soon realized that every era from the past leads back to another past era. “I had to start in the early ’70s—and even the late ’60s—because a lot of people who were foundations of the scene had been around at that time.” But Nodine adds: “I’m a little vague on dates. It’s more a story than a history book. It’s not a chronicle but how I see those times in my head.”

The scene shifted to the Starship by 1980. “You could go to Zak’s and the Starship and find open-minded people who wanted to hear new stuff,” Nodine says. Milwaukee’s punk scene was an island of imagination in a briny sea of blah. “You could rehearse in the basement for six months, get a gig and once you did, you found yourself with a group of people at the club who were like family.”

Nodine ends The Cease in 1986, with the joy-killing implementation of the age-21 drinking law. “I was fortunate that I talked to Mark Shurilla and Richard LaValliere before they passed,” he says, mentioning a pair of musicians who died in 2012. “I felt I was on a mission to get it all down. For a while, it was like: ‘Who will die next?’”

The Cease is Increase release party starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, at Shank Hall. Law & Love, The Newly Damaged and Bicentennial Rub will perform.

 

 

Book Happening

Loren Estelman

7 p.m., July 16

Mystery One Bookstore

Loren Estelman’s Confessions of Al Capone is a major biographical novel on the infamous mobster, rigorously researched and deftly nuanced to offer an intimate portrait of the gangster whose terrible crimes and larger-than-life persona have fascinated the world for nearly a century.

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