ARCHIVE: Sick Again, and Loving It

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The way they were: Arnie Baars, JoJo Albano, Greg Macolino and Bobby the K — The Chronic Sick — take their major reunion world tour back to the Brighton Bar this Saturday.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit August 4, 2009)

The story, reproduced faithfully in press releases to this day, goes something like this: it’s 1982; Reagan’s in the White House, the Falklands War and the Tylenol Killer are in the news, and the first compact discs are starting to edge vinyl off the store racks.

Meanwhile, in a drab Jersey recording studio specializing in cheap ‘n nasty local-dude records, a Long Branch-based bunch of punks called The Chronic Sick are attempting to wax a full-length followup to their first 12-inch EP for the legendary Mutha Records imprint; an effort (Cutest Band In Hardcore) that was branded the “Best Record Release of 1981″ by the formidable Jello Biafra, that hit Number One on every important college radio station in the state, and would go on to become a “Holy Grail” that reportedly continues to fetch selling prices approaching $1500.

Midway through the sessions, guitarist Bobby the K — “frustrated with the lack of grit in the singing voice of frontman Greg “Gory” Macolino, punched the lead vocalist in the throat, thinking it would add just the right quality.” It didn’t. In fact, the incident, coupled with the admitted lack of discipline and maturity on the part of the teenaged bandmates, spelled the early demise of the zitfaced, pockmarked, swastika-scribbling cuties.

Part of a small but respected scene of proto-hardcore punk and psychedelic bands that burned briefly and brightly in the early 1980s, in places like Long Branch, Red Bank, Asbury and Belmar, The Chronic Sick  (Gory, Bobby, bassist Arnie Baars and drummer JoJo Albano) would join their contemporaries — Fatal RageSecret Syde,The WorstThe BeastLaughing SoupdishMODE/IQ and Public Disturbance — in a largely doomed stand against what were then the crushing forces of the coverband dinosaurs, then in their pumped-up prime at clubs up and down the highways of Central Jersey. By contrast, the Shorecore bands, like their Brunswick and Bloomfield-based brethren to the north, homesteaded their own scene at places like the dying Fast Lane, the infamous Hot Dog House in Asbury, a couple of random neighborhood bars and rec centers — and most significantly at a recovering package-goods pukestop called the Brighton Bar.

Flash forward a couple of largely forgettable decades and you’ll find a significantly less cruddy (but still creddy) Brighton Bar still standing as the hallowed Home of Original Music on the Jersey Shore — with Macolino, now a high school teacher and a veteran of another seminal Jersey Shore band (The X-Men), one of the owners of the West End landmark for the past ten years.

History, no stranger to the little stage that helped spawn the likes of Monster Magnet and Godspeed, happened again a few months back, when the classic configuration of the Chronic Sick reunited after more than 25 years to play a special vintage hardcore show — an event that led at least indirectly to the rebirth of the celebrated Syde, and directly to such Sick happenings as their first-ever formal tour; an excursion that returns them to the Brighton boards this Saturday night, August 8.

The bandmates, who played Maxwells in Hoboken this past weekend, and are scheduled to appear tonight at The Red and the Black in Washington, DC, will be continuing their world-domination tour with stops in NYC (August 9), Cambridge, MA (August 12) and New Haven, CT (August 13). And, with the help of Adam Hamilton from LA Guns, they’re “polishing off and putting the finishing touches” on the album that was to be their second release, entitled 1982 — a set of songs that, considering when the tunes were written, has literally been in the making since that fateful year.

Red Bank oRBit talked to three of the four Sickies as they prepped for their invasion of our nation’s capital, and no going for the jugular this time. Read on.

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RED BANK ORBIT: Well, the first topic of conversation has gotta be for you to bring us up to speed on what you’ve all been doing for the past generation or so.

BOBBY: I was in California for years before I came back here — I was in a band, and when it disbanded, one of the guys started getting into licensing music for movies and TV shows, so I started doing that too. I do all sorts of stuff; play guitar, program drums and keyboards, get vocalists — I can work out of my home, and I have a lot of connections to TV and film productions. I’ve had my work on shows like Law & OrderCSI — and bad shows like Charmed.

I also worked on projects with Captain Sensible from The Damned — did some mixing work for The Damned, too, although they don’t seem to be using it, or paying me.

ARNIE: I gave up on the music business 20 years ago. I needed a nine-to-five job — I have a wife and two kids now — and I went into audio, production sort of work. I’m in Atlanta now, working as a sound designer for Turner Studios, where they do audio, post-production for the various Turner TV networks.

GREG: I’ve been a teacher for 11 years, about to start preparing for my twelfth year, teaching US History at (Long Branch) High School. And JoJo lives in California now; he’s got one kid, and he was doing machine work for a while, although he’s currently unemployed.

I’m assuming that your students know all about you and your double life as the guy with the backwards swastika scrawled on his face?

GREG: They know all about me — and they know that the reverse swastika means the reverse in this case, it means peace. The last time we played the Brighton, about twelve to fifteen of my students came to see us, and I’m expecting at least that many to show up this time. They know the lyrics to all the songs!

So as far as I know, this is really the first thing resembling a tour for you guys — how far afield did you take it on the road back in the day?

GREG: We played CBGB’s, and to me, who was 16 years old at the time, that was great — even if it was just one of their Monday night showcases. The farthest away from home would have been down at Ramapo College. We were basically a bi-state band!

And all these years later, you start picking up on this underground fanbase that you didn’t even know you had?

ARNIE: It’s really strange — I mean, nobody cared about us back then. And after we broke up, for whatever reason — years ago, an old girlfriend told me about this music store in Maryland or Delaware, that had all this stuff about us. And when the internet started, we were amazed to see all the interest in our old records.

GREG: We started getting so many emails from Boston bands who were covering songs from the EP — within two weeks, I think we found about four young punk bands who were covering our songs.

Well, that 12-inch still stands as one of the half-dozen or so best things to come out on the Mutha label. It rocked, it was funny, and it sounded to me like a little more time went into it than a lot of the lesser, lo-fi stuff that Mutha was putting out after awhile, from bands like Rattus, Youth in Asia, Partners in Crime, Brunfuss…

ARNIE: We actually spent the same amount of time on it that anybody spent on any of their records for Mutha.

BOBBY: I didn’t know about double-tracking or anything back then. It was ripped live, mostly, with some overdubs, like the guitar solo and the backing vocals on “Mucho Macho.” We worked with a girl at the studio, Twain Recording, and she seemed to like working with us. Of course we were the cutest band in hardcore.rrRRoWWww!

GREG: Years later it started showing up on eBay for some incredible prices. My sister sold hers for $800, and so did my neighbor. And now it’s double that — people have been getting $1400, $1500 for an original copy.

Hmm. I didn’t get nearly as much when I sold mine. Of course the cover had been chewed by my pet rabbit. Now about that famous story from when you were recording a followup — what happened after the punch in the throat incident? Did you get the necessary grit?

GREG: What happened was nothing. That was it; Bobby left the band and the record never got made. There was so much animosity back then — worse than animosity. It had to do with a chick to some extent — our own Yoko I guess you could say. Bobby and I didn’t talk to each other for about four years after that, but eventually I started hanging out with him again.

You set a good example for all the other busted-up bands out there — so why aren’t more of them coming out of the woodwork?

GREG: You know, for this show, I wanted Secret Syde, Chronic Sick and Fatal Rage together again — Secret Syde was originally gonna do it, but Jon, it seems, can’t deal with a schedule, with a set rehearsal time. And there’s still a lot of animosity there with Fatal Rage; a lot of stubbornness on Jacko’s part.

But if you guys can do it, I’m thinking anyone can do it.

BOBBY: With 1982, which is songs that we wrote back then but never recorded, it helps that we’re revisiting that time, and doing it right this time, finishing what we started. We actually started working on it four years ago, and just finished it this year, so I like to think I matured along the way.

GREG: We all matured, we got over a lot of the stuff that was getting in the way. We just didn’t like each other much back then, and now — we don’t care. We just have fun. We love playing together!

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