Flipper’s 40th anniversary is this year and they are playing later this week in their hometown of San Francisco at Great American Music Hall. I guess I gotta shell out the big bucks if I wanna see ’em again. Should I do it? It will be sorta like a family reunion, in that not everyone will be there, and those that are, might not even be recognizable the way you remembered them, or even the members you’d want to see the most.
Here’s live video clips I made featuring songs made infamous during Flipper’s early years…
Here’s a more recent live lineup performing past glories from the band’s break-thru single originally released on Subterranean Records in 1981
Both songs are masterfully jaded methed up narcoleptic noise rock takes on the American Dream gone awry, setting the tone for the emerging ennui amidst a painful wasteland of suburban consumer conformity and corporate malfeasance that would be known as the 1980’s.
For a year or two in the late eighties, I used to answer Flipper’s fan mail, not for the money, uh, just for the glory I think… besides they were too lazy. Their singer Will Shatter would show up and sit beside me at the Subterranean record label store front on Valencia St circa 10 am with a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler in hand. He was really just hoping to cash spare royalty checks before the rest of his bandmates, and seemed disinterested in the fan mail I showed him from geeky kids in far off Poland and Kentucky. The label guy would maybe throw him a few bucks to get rid of him lurking around the storefront, and Will might even pilfer a couple 7″s on his way out to sell somewhere else. But Will was a beatnik poet, and really just a guy from Gilroy, and he died soon after of an OD…
The Flippant Men Who Make The, Uh, I Guess You’d Call It “Music”
Steve DePace is the entrepreneurial mercenary and life force trying to preserve the band’s legacy, Ted is more chill, a laconic Vietnam Vet, frazzled and still the easiest to be around to this day. I think Will was the sweetest of the bunch, while Bruce, now put out to pasture, was obviously the most mischievous, which is kinda cute when you’re young, less so as you creep into middle age.
When Flipper Kinda Lost Its Way In The World …
By the early 90’s Bruce’s drug taking manifested itself beyond pranks into petty feuds and worse, he became such a jerk, that after Will died, he was actually caught climbing through the ceiling vents of his own indie label warehouse to steal his own master tapes. It was all part of a coked up cash-in ploy and they sold the reels to Rick Rubin and Henry Rollins for chump change.
Selling the tapes got a cash infusion, but sorta proved to be a stupid move, as not only did they burn the true foundational business bridge to their past glories, as soon they took the new money from Rubin, (an amount that barely woulda bought a decent new van), all the early Flipper tapes & LPs were soon out of print. Most of their legacy material was basically lost to the netherworlds of corporate negligence… They put out one new record on a major label in 1993 that stiffed, and I think Steve DePace had to sue to buy back their own music from Sony or whomever ended up owned and kept it dormant for well over a decade into the 21st century long after iTunes and eMusic downloads were already in decline.
Flipper mighta been a buncha drug ravaged idiots, but they were also brutally inspired artists without fear who made a definite caustic sonic mark on the rock music world. Really a band with no apologies, and a legacy of noise that still always makes me smile despite actually knowing the muther fuckers. Original singer Bruce “loose” Calderwood is a more than half crazy old mountain man misanthrope, constantly complaining online about his back, lashing out in recriminating rants while David Yow of Jesus Lizard cavorts the globe singing the songs Bruce made famous, much to Bruce’s chagrin and anger.
They were one of the great band’s of the early 80’s post-punk scene, and the only thing that held them back was everything. especially their own dysfunctionality. I consider them America’s nasty little answer to the pomp & circumspect Public Image Limited., but with much more sincerity, true grit and heart. They made dark deep wounding records that still stand the test of time, and their songs churn away in the background like psychic sewer dweller anthems. As Krist Novoselic of Nirvana has said of the band he briefly joined “Their music drew me into a universe where bleak was beautiful. I realized the work was as heavy and transcendent as anything in the rock echelon. Mainstream convention was shattered. Flipper were too weird and dangerous for the world. And if the world didn’t get it, that was just another loss for humanity. “
Apparently the world as another chance to catch on. Steve DePace mentioned to me in April when I inquired about the band’s 40th anniversary tour, and working on a documentary of their career “The time is right! I am going to get it all done over the next year or two! We will be rebuilding and relaunching the brand and the band in a big way. Lots of shows and many other things…”
Footnote: San Francisco music scribe and rock fan boy geek extraordinaire Dave Pehling has spoken to Steve DePace and recounted their conversation at great length recently and covers a lot of fishstory in a recent post at CBS Local here : https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2019/07/10/cbs-sf-flipper-drummer-steve-depace-interview-punk