John Brannon in the Metro Times, and on SNL

coversmallThe new issue of the Detroit Metro Times has a pretty good feature on John Brannon, the former lead singer of the band the Laughing Heyenas. While he’s likely more famous for his earlier band – the seminal hardcore group Negative Approach – I was never that into their music. The Laughing Heyenas, however, were incredible. I think I saw them play my first week in Ann Arbor, along with David Yow’s band Jesus Lizard, and I was blown away. I’ll spare you my fanboy fawning, but I did want to pass along this one clip from the story. It’s not the most titillating part of the article, which deals largely with Brandon’s addictions and the friends that he’s lost along the way, but it, unlike the other stuff, was news to me… Here it is:

…Just after forming, John Brannon, plus other members of Negative Approach, fellow local hardcore band the Necros and Washington, D.C., pioneers Minor Threat, found themselves on Saturday Night Live in 1981 as the audience for a performance by Lee Ving’s infamous L.A. punk band Fear, which had been given a leg up onto the show by their friend John Belushi.

“The original cast had left. Belushi was just coming back to do a spot,” Brannon says. “So we’re all hanging out in the green room. The dudes with the headphones and the clipboards are running around all terrified and shit. Belushi’s hanging out because he wanted to hang with all of us. I had black spiky hair, and Belushi’s like, ‘You should get a mohawk.’ Somebody had their clippers, and Belushi gave me a mohawk. Fear played, and we were just doing what we do, going nuts. I think that was America’s first glimpse of slam dancing and crazy punk dudes. The microphone gets knocked into the audience, and of course I grabbed it and I yelled, ‘Negative Approach is gonna fuck you up.’ That aired over live TV. That was kind of a thrill. I was about 18. When I got home, I wasn’t feeling the mohawk, so from that point on I was a skinhead”…

I’ve probably seen that Fear clip from SNL 100 times over the course of my life, and read about it several places, but I never knew that John Brannon was one of those kids. It’s weird… If someone hasn’t done so already, it would be cool to track down everyone who appeared in that segment and find out what happened to them. I bet it would make a hell of a documentary.

You can see the 1981 SNL footage here.

And, speaking of Fear, did you know that Lee Ving, who played a strip club owner in the movie Flashdance, once appeared on the sitcom Who’s the Boss? The episode was called “Walk on the Mild Side.”

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  1. Bob
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Great story, I’ve had a few memorable run-ins with Brannon over the years. I was never much of a hardcore fan but thought the LH’s were great live. Easy Action is pretty underrated as well. Fear on the other hand were a pretty weak-ass punk band.

  2. Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you on Fear. I like “New York’s Alright,” but that’s about it.

    And I’d love to hear about the run-ins with Brannon, if you wouldn’t mind sharing them here.

  3. Kim
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    The Heyenas were fucking incredible. Great stage presence. Brandon was intimidating as hell.

  4. Posted June 11, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    WOW I’ve never heard of this SNL performance before. Thanks for the link to the video! That was amazing, I can’t believe this was on national television.

    I have some old Laughing Hyenas footage laying around for a documentary I was once trying to make. I’ll have to dig that up and put it on YouTube or something.

  5. Edward
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Brannon looks like an old school minister in this photo. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s the expression on his face. But he reminds me of Reverend Billy.

    And I can’t believe that he’s almost 50.

  6. Kevin Plotz
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Ian MacKaye was there too. This comes from an interview with him—–

    When Fear played on “Saturday Night Live,” Ian, did you go down to “Saturday Night Live” and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
    Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for The Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was Lorne Michaels’ office, Lorne Michaels being the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and I get this woman, “Lorne Michaels’ office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. Lorne Michaels gets on the phone – “Hi, Ian, it’s Lorne Michaels of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ’cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did ‘Decline of Western Civilization’ and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where “Saturday Night Live” was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch and Go people and a bunch of DC people – 15 to 20 of us came up from DC. Henry was gone. He was living in LA at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show – have you seen it?

    Yes I have.
    If you watch it – during the show – before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.

    They locked you in a room?
    Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show – particularly a punk band – that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.

  7. Andy C
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    FEAR was one of the best punk bands of all time. Those who don’t get FEAR just don’t get punk. Pure nihilism. If I had to pick one record to show what punk was all about, it would be “The Record”. Read the iTunes/ record review and then the comments about it. Maybe you’ll understand them better.

  8. Andy C
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Also, Easy Action is way under rated. It’s sad that so many people can’t get past N.A.

  9. Bob
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    My run-ins with Brannon were brief but memorable. Mostly just short conversations during the 90’s when he was kind of laying low. I sat with him at the bar at Union Street one time and I think we talked baseball. He didn’t seem to want to talk music from what I remember. The last time I spoke to him was in the scummy downstairs toilet at St. Andrews, probably five years ago. I had just seen easy action play the week before and told him what a great set it was. It was too. I couldn’t tell if he was out of his head or just…off. He was very thankful and kept apologizing for not shaking my hand because he “HAD TO LAY A PISS DOWN.” He kept repeating that and it struck me as hilarious and maybe a little sad. He looked amazingly good aside from that screwed up expression he always seemed to have.
    But Andy…are we really missing something with Fear? I don’t know…it’s been a while since I heard that record but I’m not sure the dumb and offensive stuff is coming from a place of irony or satire. Plus, I remind you…Flea was in the band for a while. FLEA… nuff’ said.

  10. Bob
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s worth adding how out of town, and much bigger rock stars, always seem to mention or ask about Brannon when they are here. Mark Arm from Mudhoney in particular seems to be in awe. He always mentions Brannon and NA from the stage. A few years back when Easy Action opened for Radio Birdman at the Magic Stick, Mudhoney drove to Detroit and played for cheap just to be on the bill. Arm made a big fuss about the thrill of playing on the same stage as Brannon. I remember hanging out with some of the guys from New Bomb Turks years ago, they made it a point to check out Easy Action as often as they could.

  11. Posted June 12, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I agree with Andy. I discovered that record at a point in my life where my mother was throwing the word “Loser” at me almost daily. Fear’s “The Record” and Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” were the arsenal I used to fight back. Those albums made her cry and gave me a place to focus my anger.

    And by the time Flea was in Fear it was a shadow of it’s former self. Magic happened when they made “The Record” that never happened again.

  12. Posted June 12, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I’ve never heard The Record all the way through, so maybe I should excuse myself from this conversation. I do know, however, that, with the exception of “New York’s Alright,” and a couple of other songs, I haven’t liked what I’ve heard. Maybe I’m biased against Lee Ving, though. I heard years ago that, before he was in Fear, he was trying to make it in a blues band. Maybe it’s unfair, but I’ve always thought that he was just a smart guy who saw an opportunity with the new genre. Still, though, I like some of the tunes, even with the over the top homophobia.

  13. Posted June 12, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    And, as for Negative Approach, it’s just not my thing. The Heyenas, however, were. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d seen them live, but I always was more of a Ramones punk than a hardcore punk.

  14. Andy C
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Yes Mark FEAR is homophobic and you’re ultra right wing for singing “Nixon is Innocent” in the ’90’s. Come on man, actually listen to it before judging it.

    New York’s alright if you wanna get pushed in front of the subway
    New York’s alright if you like tuberculosis
    New York’s alright if you like art and jazz
    New York’s alright if you’re a homosexual

    New York’s alright if you like saxophones

    New York’s alright if you like drunks in your doorway
    New York’s alright if you wanna freeze to death
    New York’s alright if you wanna get mugged or murdered
    New York’s alright if you like saxophones

  15. Posted June 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Andy, I said that I LIKED “New York’s Alright.” Read my comment, Dude.

    So, am I going to see you over at Tom’s in a few minutes?

  16. Peter Larson
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Nixon is Innocent is a right wing anthem.

  17. Posted June 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Does that exist digitally anywhere, Pete? I’d love to post it here on the site, if it does.

  18. Dan R
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always liked Fear for their sense of humor. C’mon – their mix of punk and humor is perfect. “The Record” is one of the few punk albums I go back to at least a couple of times a year.

    That said, seeing the Laughing Hyenas play live in AA in the 90s was a whole different level of musical experience. Awesome.

  19. Peter Larson
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Nixon is Innocent is on the Bulb Singles CD.

  20. Posted June 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    If you weren’t flying to Malawi in a few hours, I’d ask you to email it to me… It can wait until you get back, though.

  21. Posted June 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    And have a safe trip to the Libertarian paradise of Africa.

  22. Andy C
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    When most people accuse FEAR of homophobia they’re referencing “New York’s Alright”. My mistake. I’ll try to dig up “Nixon Is Innocent”.

  23. Edward
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I remember a story from back in they day about a certain singer and his girlfriend breaking into the offices of an Ann Arbor booking agent and taking some money that wasn’t there’s in order to get high. Said agent didn’t call in the law, but instead took the opportunity to force the band into taking a bunch of crappy gigs, thus destroying any momentum the band had at the time. I have no idea if it’s true. Can anyone verify?

  24. Punk E. Boobster
    Posted August 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Derf Scratch of Fear is dead.

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