Jacko Rages Against the B’day-Candle Light

Fatal mystique: Jack Monahan (pictured at left with the original lineup of Fatal Rage) makes a long-awaited revisit to his early 80s hardcore roots, during a month that sees the bearded oracle celebrate his sixtieth in some semblance of style.

He’s been called “stubborn” and “dogmatic” by the most diplomatic among us. Canonized and condemned in equal measure by the thousands of musicians and bands who’ve dealt with him over the years. For more than a generation now, he’s been the first visible, most instantly recognizable face of The Brighton Bar — the bearded sentry Heimdall guarding the mystical bridge to Asgard; the cryptkeeper/caretaker maintaining order in the midst of mayhem; the dour ferryman who takes your coin and dispenses his ‘X,’ sometimes not without a brief sermonette on how you haven’t been “supporting the scene” through frequent enough visits.

While it’s not the stuff of a successful career as a WalMart greeter, the presence of Jack Monahan at the door of the Home of Original Music has been the one real constant through several different chapters of the Brighton Bar memoir; this despite never having had a financial stake in the former package-goods pitstop turned heir apparent to CBGB.

Fateful frontguy to some half a dozen seminal indie outfits; a postpunk poet who established the Upper Wet Side’s longest running spoken word series; a “band bookie” of nationwide repute (and a man whose Tolkienesque look was bitch-stole wholesale by fast-fading record guru Rick Rubin), Jacko has been there, done that, and returned to do it time and again regardless of fad or fashion — a larger than life figure who, as he told the Asbury Park Press in 2008, has parceled out that life “20 years booking, 35 years playing, 40 years underground.”

In an era that’s necessitated a slight shifting of the CoJack Productions focus beyond the Brighton, Monahan remains defiantly “underground” where many of his contemporaries struggle simply to stay topside of the topsoil. And, in a month that sees Jacko celebrate his landmark 60th birthday with a public party at The Saint in Asbury, the patron saint of all that’s passionately indie has saved the biggest surprise for this coming weekend — the long awaited, 30 years in the making reunion of Fatal Rage.

The Bishop of Brighton, as pictured on a tour blog by the (now defunct?) band Airiel.

Branded as “The Godfathers of Shore Punk in Jersey,” Long Branch-based Fatal Rage never got called the “Cutest” Band in Hardcore — in fact, there are those who dispute their sound being “hardcore” as traditionally practiced — but as the (more or less) flagship organization of the Mutha Records stable, they straddled a small but fervently followed scene that stretched from Belmar to the Bayshore and all Hot Dog House parties between. Famous for being banned from pretty much every club that’d have them at one time or another, Fatal Rage in general — and seriously intense singer Jack Monahan in particular — were in large part the binding agent that held together a casual, largely un-serious scene based, for better or worse, at the fightin’ Brighton.

Fatal Rage wasn’t Monahan’s first punk band — that would be Da-Works, the gang of “Socialogical Alleycats” that he co-fronted in the late 1970s (and whose one Jack-voiced recording was “Sid Did,” a heady indictment of Sid Vicious in the wake of Nancy Spungen’s death). Within just a couple of years, Jacko had honed his barking songspeak vocal attack; sharpened his politically charged polemic and assembled a young band — guitarists Jeff Kibbe and Dickie Riddle, bespectacled bassist Steve Cote and drummer Andy Schweers, replacing Eddie Dougherty — that would spearhead a sound as well as a scene.

For the recovering hippie and Frank Zappa fan (who moved to Long Branch in the late 1960s to study history and literature at what was then Monmouth College), Fatal Rage was a vehicle for his politics and passions that replaced the brokedown Magic Bus of the Vietnam era with an infinitely more aggressive, barely contained sonic hi-colonic. A Rage set would find the stocky Monahan patrolling the stage area, observing the crowd as it coalesced into a pit, then charging like Ben Grimm into the clobberin’-time fray as yet another bar owner sweated bullets over dinged-up pool tables.

Along the way, the blue-collar tradesman, vanguard local dude (proud to “shop at Bauer’s”) and student of literary movements was becoming a booking guy slowly but surely; organizing multi-band punk blasts at innocuous neighborhood taverns (anybody recall 95 West?), video arcades, activity centers and the aforementioned Hot Dog House — where floors quaked, dark corners beckoned, and logrolling moshers sent giant cable spools crashing against the wall. In the long run, it was the smoke-choked Brighton Avenue dive — a cramped room where sad old Asbury acts like Paul Whistler played to neighborhood drinkers from a tiny corner stage — that offered the friendliest harbor to the burgeoning hardcore hullabaloo. Thus began a residency (you buy the place, you inherit Jack) that’s continued to this day.

One of the earliest and best-produced releases from the now highly sought-after Mutha imprint, the sole album by Fatal Rage distinguishes itself from the run of jokey early 80s suburban hardcore bands through its relatively disciplined attack, a greater emphasis on lead guitar (particularly on the anthemic “Fatal Mistake”) and the more mature (if that’s the word we’re groping for) perspective of its frontman and spiritual leader, then literally old enough to be father to many of the pimply personalities who populated the scene.

Said scene may have flared too briefly and heatedly to have lasted very long into the Reagan decade, but although the Rage would dissipate in due time, Jack Monahan would be in the picture for a Big Bang of another kind — the genesis of a local performance poetry scene, centered around Monmouth College. If you can score a copy of the extremely rare 1987 Shadow Mouth Compilation — an underground album assembled by WMCX deejay and Existential Moped founder Kevin LaMastra — you’ll hear Jacko spouting some rhythmic Rage rant recorded live at one of the Shadow Mouth multimedia happenings at the school’s Anacon Hall. That Monmouth University connection (including contributions by musician and MU professor Daniel Weeks) has continued into the new millennium’s ongoing monthly series of Sunday spoken word slammies at the Brighton; a largely beneath-the-radar cultural touchstone with which Jack Monahan was one of the first out of the box.

Full of things to say and fueled by the gumption to share them in public, Monahan could never keep himself too far from a mic throughout the years; serving as field marshal in bands like speedmetal Dirge (a tale for another day), the beat/jazz improv Milky Chicken Spit (with Weeks and Joe Harvard), and Acoublack Squack. The punk rock essentials and the poet’s passions continue to vie for equal time in the delightfully disorganized occasional project Mau Mau Tsunami, who keynoted this special birthday month with a May 3 show at The Saint. In fact, the May 29 birthday party at the “Jack-E-Cheez” promises reunion sets by Mau Mau, Da Works, Dirge, Squack, “The New Milky Spit” and “all the jacko bands of the last 30 yrs that can still cut muster.”

Still, it’s the May 21 Rage reunion (the first gig by this lineup in some 30 years) that remains most intriguing. Despite consistent clamor for such an event, and despite the well-received reappearances of Mutha-mates like Chronic Sick, Secret Syde and Mischief, Jacko reportedly remained resolute in resisting (or, as he’d likely put it, “having your own ethics, staying true to your moral center”). Far from being something akin to the latest summer package tour by whoever/whatever constitutes Yes and Journey these days, this Saturday night set at a neighborhood rock bar represents a reaffirmation of roots and resolve; a celebration of bonds restored, and a tip of the shaman’s hat to a character who, bless him or blast him, stands second to no one in his commitment to all that’s truly indie and original in our neck of the weeds.

Fatal Rage appears with the reconstituted Sex Zombies plus Mellow Harsher and The Uglys on Saturday night, with $10 tix available in advance via the Brighton website. Doors open around noontime at The Saint for Jacko’s 60th birthday bash on Sunday, May 29, with an updated lineup of bands viewable right here.

Things that were happening when Jacko was born: Network radio dramas, Korean War, Howdy Doody, Amos ‘n Andy, Brooklyn Dodgers, Studebaker Starlight Commander, Jim Crow laws, the Rosenberg trials, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Palisades Amusement Park.

People who were still alive when Jacko was born: Ty Cobb, Hank Williams, Albert Einstein, Gertrude Lawrence, Joseph Stalin, Mack Sennett, Herbert Hoover, Grandma Moses, the Birdman of Alcatraz, and at least two verified Civil War veterans.

Things not yet invented when Jacko was born: Transistor radios, the H-bomb, stereo records, Cinemascope, polio vaccine, The Pill, lasers, Vladimir Putin, diet soda, and Joe Strummer.

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