Hugs and Kisses #14: Scarce, Chick Graning, Joyce Raskin’s Aching To Be


Monday evening means another episode of Hugs and Kisses, a weekly Sound of the City column from UK-based music writer Mr. Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography (da Capo Press) and publisher of Plan B Magazine. Suppose we once again have to mention Everett True is the fella who introduced Kurt and Courtney — since he calls them by first name in the following piece and all. Not that it matters.


The Outbursts of Everett True

THIS WEEK: Aching To Be, one girl’s account of rock’n’roll

Scarce, “All Sideways”

It’s like this.

Don’t think about the mid-Nineties much. Don’t care to. It was sort of a nadir for me: Kurt was dead, as were a few other friends, I was out of love with rock music feeling that it had failed me — and all that was left was alcohol. Not creative drinking, not the sort of abuse that leads to brilliant and erratic spontaneity, but the dead-end, regular night at the pub (seven days a week) sort: there to dull the pain, fill the void. Still caught a fair few bands, of course — plus I had the unedifying spectacle of seeing my other famous friend (Courtney) exorcise her demons in public — but mostly I didn’t like much, didn’t rate much.

There were a handful of exceptions, mostly centered round velvet ropes I’m not denying, but still there were. One such exception was a genius, dead sexy band from Rhode Island, Scarce — a trio comprising Chick Graning, Joyce Raskin and a series of drummers who never remained long enough for me to catch their names — a band that fired imagination and moved as if possessed by their libidos, who took all the bits that David Bowie and R.E.M. left out and mutated them into a searing, mesmerising whole. Fugazi once snagged a plectrum bassist Joyce had been using, claiming they’d never seen so much blood on one; rivulets of sweat would form down the back of main singer Chick’s velvet jacket an hour after he finished playing, such was his exertion. There were a couple of incredible songs — “All Sideways” (written about a near-death car crash Chick had suffered), “Days Like These,” “Glamorizing Cigarettes” (written about the fondness of Chick’s ex-girlfriend Tanya Donelly to pose with a cigarette even though she didn’t smoke) — and some fucking great male-female harmonies going down, as well.

For a couple of years I rocked with Scarce across several countries — America, England, Germany, Holland… (Chick had been in a previous band, the warped and strange Anastasia Screamed, who I was also a fan of.) I was accordingly upset when, in 1995, following a major deal support tour with Hole in Europe and on the verge of seriously breaking it big with their debut album Deadsexy, Chick suffered a brain aneurysm and lapsed into a coma for several weeks. He recovered, but — suffering from medium term memory loss that meant he was unable to remember his time with Joyce in Scarce — the band later split up, acrimoniously. (Deadsexy only gained an American release in 1996.)

I’m reminded of all this by a slim volume that turned up through the post last week, Joyce Raskin’s Aching To Be (subtitled A Girl’s True Rock And Roll Story), released through Number One Press. [Editor’s note: It turned up with a lovely introduction by one Mr. Everett True, as you might’ve noticed on the above jacket.] It’s a straightforward, no punches pulled, account of her time spent with Scarce: Joyce’s original motivation for being involved with rock’n’roll (from the Washington DC hardcore scene of the early Nineties, she was rejected by future members of Nation Of Ulysses); how the band got signed within a couple of months of forming (after being courted by 15 labels); the incredible, sexual, on-stage energy she felt with Chick and whenever she managed to bond with a drummer; the escapades on the road with Hole and Belly, at CBGBs, the Empty Bottle, Reading Festival… recording in a haunted New York church-turned-studio with a dictatorial producer and its very own poltergeist… and, overwhelmingly, Chick’s fight for life following his hemorrhage.

The last quarter of this book is given over to the fall-out following on from Chick’s coma and memory loss. Astonishingly, Scarce kept going as a band till 1997, playing two major US tours — doubtless inspired and chided by their powerhouse of a manager Leslie Aldredge — even though this meant Chick relearning all his guitar parts and vocals from scratch. But increasingly Joyce felt herself frustrated at the emotional detachment Chick felt from both her and the music (unsurprisingly), the pair ultimately parting in the most acrimonious of circumstances.

Sometimes this book reads so personal and raw, one wonders whether Joyce was persuaded to tackle the project as a form of therapy — getting over the tremendous loss she felt when Chick was torn away from her — and as a way to face up to her own insecurities. If you read Joyce harp on about how much she admired men, how strong men are (and by inference how weak women are) you read her a dozen times… odd, considering she encountered so many strong women (Leslie, Scarce’s A&R person Teresa Ensenat, Tanya Donelly, etc) and even odder, speaking as someone who’s always been in awe of Joyce’s own strength of character and musical ability.

Whatever. It’s a fine book about a damn brilliant band and I feel privileged to have been written its introduction.

And, perhaps most amazing of all, in the past year Scarce have reformed (with the drummer who joined the day before Chick had his aneurysm) and are now playing shows around Boston, and are talking of releasing a new album.

Hugs And Kisses Top 5

What’s happening now on the Everett True soundsystem

1. Scarce, “All Sideways” (from the Rockamundo EP “Red”)
Still makes me want to punch and thrash in the air the way Dinosaur Jr’s “Freak Scene” does.

2. Dead Kennedys, “MTV Get Off The Air” (from the Cherry Red album Milking The Sacred Cow)
New collection reminds us of quite why Biafra’s lot were perhaps the finest political punk band, bar none: and this song is as timely (and side-splittingly funny) now as it ever was.

3. Mannequin Men, “Private School” (from the Flameshovel album Fresh Rot)
Like the spirit of the Pacific Northwest — Mudhoney, Dead Moon, The Wipers — has been reinvested once more, in Chicago.

4. Jens Lekman, “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” (from the Secretly Canadian album Night Falls Over Kortedala)
In which Sweden’s foremost Dan Treacy/Calvin Johnson crooner reinvents himself as The Mike Flowers Pops.

5. M.I.A., “Bamboo Banga” (from the XL album Kala)
She quotes Jonathan Richman, y’know — over skittery Sri Lanka rap. That’s way than enough for me.