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Thursday, December 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Overcast
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Madison Senior Scenester Potluck reflects on a bygone musical era
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Robin Davies of the Tar Babies, left, and Cathy Dethmers, owner of the High Noon Saloon and, formerly, O'Cayz Corral.
Credit:Adam Powell

When I was thirteen and facing freshman year at Madison West High, I bought an old Farfisa Mini-Compact at one garage sale, a Korg MS-20 and an amp at another, and started a band with Pete Kohl called Cruel Society.

We were listening to MDC, Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks on vinyl we bought at the long-defunct Paradise Records, so naturally we developed our own version of hardcore punk. The mindset on State Street in the early '80s among a certain subculture was one of violent underground dissent against Reagan's America and an embrace of the DIY culture of 'zines, homemade flyer art and punk rock.

Because we were so young, we were considered a novelty act and quickly got dozens of shows opening up for the likes of Seven Seconds, Imminent Attack, Die Kreuzen and Killdozer. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Robin Davies of Tar Babies was booking most of these gigs and in the process helping to create a whole social scene in Madison for young dissidents around all-ages shows where slam-dancing to hardcore was a lifestyle and political statement.

Sunday, the Senior Scenesters Potluck at Tenney Park brought many of the members of that social scene together again. It was Bill Feeny's brainstorm. Feeny played with Appliances SFB, one of the better-know Madison acts of the early '80s.

"People obviously care about the past and the community," Feeny observed. "There are so many here." Lisa Marine, another organizer, realized "that we usually only see each other at funerals -- why?"

Bill, Lisa, and Biff Blumfumgagne of The Gomers decided to put together an event to remember those special people from a special time in Madison. Word got out, plots were made at length in discussions on TDPF, and the Tenney Park shelter quickly filled up with food, friends, loads of old concert flyers and plenty of reminiscing, while a soundtrack from bands of the day played over the P.A. and old photos were circulated.

Members of Booty Froot, The Weeds and even area folk veteran Art Paul Schlosser showed up to pay tribute and play some live music. Jonathan Zarov of WORT led a burn down of Swamp Thing material.

Bucky Pope of Tar Babies, still famous enough to get name-checked from the stage by Dengue Fever at Saturday night's La Fete De Marquette (and, in a closing-the-circle sensation, a friend with whom Robin Davies and I formed Ka-Boom!Box), was there too, banging out his trademark intellectual, brutally modulated guitar riffs.

A modified version of Tar Babies played the first two songs from their 1983 debut Face The Music, crushing hardcore that landed the band on SST as label mates with Meat Puppets, Black Flag and The Minutemen back in the day. The sound endures, and the band electrified the crowd at Tenney Park Sunday night.

"I've already come to grips with all this being 25 years ago," Pope said. "That's one-third the lifespan of an average human. A lot of us were 20 years old then, so this picnic basically celebrates the beginning of the Madison alternative punk scene as well as a half century of its originators being alive."

It was a theme that the Cattleprod/Drug-Induced Nightmare/Headpump amalgam took up when they sang "Jesus was a vampire... he wants to eat our souls..." and shortly thereafter exclaimed "Hey, we're all still alive -- yay!"

Robin Davies summed up the feelings of many, shaking his head and saying, "No walkers or wheelchairs, I guess that's a good sign."

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