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December 18th, 2013 / 8:00 am
Music

Winter 1974, The Nail Bombs

nailbombsHere’s something to keep in mind if you happen to be in Michigan next February.

On February 17, 1974, at a VFW Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Nail Bombs played their only show. They played for 11 and one half minutes. They played three songs. There were 19 people in the audience. All 19 started their own bands within two weeks of seeing The Nail Bombs play. Shows played by the bands formed by the 19 people who saw The Nail Bombs play inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Thus, The Nail Bombs are an index case of much of the Midwest’s punk rock scene. (Sure, The MC5. Sure, The Stooges. But remember: with music, multiple ears are available to be infected, and multiple strains infect. The Nail Bombs were a strain. An powerful strain.)

No one knows who The Nail Bombs were. No member of the band has ever stepped forward and said, “I was a Nail Bomb.” No one has even attempted to do so as a hoax. They never recorded a record, or even made a little demo. There was at one point a tape of the show—the only audio evidence of the existence of The Nail Bombs—but it has been lost, and now there remain only some fragments of a transcript. (Fragments will appear at the end of this post.)

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There are facts. Here are the facts:

The Nail Bombs were a trio. All three members were women. The drummer was visibly pregnant.

The Nail Bombs had two guitar players and a drummer with only a bass drum, a hi-hat, a floor tom, and a snare.

The Nail Bombs had a logo stenciled on the bass drum. It was a hand giving the finger. The middle finger’s nail was long, and it was painted to look like a grenade.

The Nail Bombs (per the transcript) played only three songs because they had only three songs. They had formed that very morning, written three songs, and convinced someone at the VFW to let them play a show there sometime in the early evening.

The Nail Bombs (per word of mouth handed from Midwestern mouth to Midwestern mouth to Midwestern mouth for the last for decades) were the best band anyone had ever seen. The Nail Bombs were a way of life. Like Woodstock, 19 people saw The Nail Bombs, but hundreds of people claim(ed) to have seen The Nail Bombs, and everybody thinks they were changed by The Nail Bombs.

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An interesting consequence of The Nail Bombs first and only show was mentioned earlier. Nineteen young outcast kids from Grand Rapids, Michigan—some of whom were undoubtedly friends of the anonymous band and some of whom were just in off the street because they saw a mimeographed handbill—saw The Nail Bombs and all 19 formed bands. (Something to think about: some percentage of the 19 knew the identity of The Nail Bombs and not one has ever given the band up. Imagine. The Midwest is loyal for real.)

A more interesting consequence, and the reason I have waited through my many years as a contributor to HTML Giant until the end of 2013 to talk about The Nail Bombs is this: since the 1974 show, every ten-year anniversary is marked by a tribute concert.

In a manner of speaking, anyway.

On the morning of February 17, 1984, a woman called the Grand Rapids VFW and asked the Veteran of a Foreign War who answered the phone if the hall still allowed concerts. It did not. They had stopped allowing live music there five years previous. Noise complaints. The woman who called the hall, though, was able to convince the Veteran of a Foreign War that she and her band—she did not tell the Veteran of a Foreign War the name of the band, possibly to avoid alienating him—were a mostly quiet, mostly melodic musical combo, and that they hall should allow them to rechristen it as a live music venue for the young people in Grand Rapids who enjoyed live music and honored the Veterans of Foreign Wars for their service in overseas conflicts. And so, a decade after they had appeared and disappeared, The Nail Bombs returned and played the VFW Hall. They played three songs. They played for eleven and one half minutes. They had a crowd of 19 or so.

Thing is, the three women who appeared as The Nail Bombs were likely not The Nail Bombs. In the crowd were a few people who had been to the original show. They—shocked to see a mimeographed flyer identical to the one they had seen a decade previous—dropped whatever plans they had made for that evening to go to the VFW hall and see what the hell would happen. And what they saw was the show they had seen, but because the show was so near but not precisely the show they had seen, it was clear that it wasn’t the show they had seen. It was a quietly altered copy of the original. Copy an original. Examine the edges. See the little places where the copy cheats to get near but not be the original.

On the morning of February 17, 1994, a woman called the Grand Rapids VFW and asked the Veteran of a Foreign War who answered the phone if the hall still allowed concerts. It did not. They had stopped allowing live music there ten years previous. Noise complaints after a single live musical event. More trouble than it was worth. The woman who called the hall, though, was able to convince the Veteran of a Foreign War that she and her band—she did not tell the Veteran of a Foreign War the name of the band, possibly to avoid alienating him—were a mostly quiet, mostly melodic musical trio, and that they hall should allow them to relaunch it as a live music venue for the young people in Grand Rapids who enjoyed live music and honored the Veterans of Foreign Wars for their services in international theaters of military aggression. And so, a decade after they had appeared and disappeared again, The Nail Bombs returned and played the VFW Hall. They played three songs. They played for eleven and one half minutes. They had a crowd of 19 or so.

Thing is, the three women who appeared as The Nail Bombs were even more likely not The Nail Bombs. In the crowd was a single person who had been to the original show. She—again shocked to see a mimeographed flyer identical to the one she had seen a decade previous and another decade previous—dropped whatever plans she had made for that evening to go to the VFW hall to see what the hell would happen this time. And what they saw was the show they had seen, but because the show was so near but not precisely the show she had seen, it was clear that it wasn’t the show she had seen. It was a quietly altered copy of the original. Copy an original. Examine the edges. See the little places where the copy cheats to get near but not be the original. Copy the copy. See the way it cheats to be near but not be the copy.

And step that back a step, because though a woman who had been to the 1974 show was there, and she had the experience described above, a number of people from the 1984 show were there, and they had this: Copy an original. Examine the edges. See the little places where the copy cheats to get near but not be the original. See it degrade.

It degrades.

On the morning of February 17, 2004, a womn called the Grand Rapids VFW and asked the Veteran of a Foreign War who answered the phone if the hall still allowd concerts. It did n’t. They had stopped allowing live music there ten years previous and ten years previous, and the hall hd burned down and moved. Noise complants. More trouble than it was worth. The woman who called the hall, though, was able to convince the Veteran of a Foreign Wr that she and her band—she did not tell the Veteran of a Foreign War the name of the band, possibly to avid alienating him—were a mostly quiet, mostly melodic all-girl group, and that they hall should alow them to reopen it as a live musc venue for the young people in Grand Rapids who enjoyed live music and honored the Veterans of Foreign Wars for the things they had to do whn they went across the ocean to fght for Uncle Sam and the Amercan Way of life. And s, a decade after they had appeared and disappeared anothr time, The Nail Bombs rturned and played the VFW Hall. They played three songs. They played for eleven and one half minutes. They had a crwd of 19 or so.

Thing is, the three women who appeared as The Nal Bombs were very likely not The Nail Boms. The crowd didn’t hav a single person who had been to the original show or the 1984 shw, but a coupl of people from the shw in 1994. Thy—again shocked to see a mimeographed flyer identical to the one she had seen a decade previous and another decade previous—dropped whater plans they had made for that eveing to go to the new VFW Hall and se what the hell would happen. AAnd what they saw was the show they had seen, but because the show was so near but not precisely the show she had seen, it was clear that it wasn’t the show she had seen. It was a furthr degraded copy of the original and the show a decde after the original and the show a decad aftr that. Keep copyng yr copies. Watch thm dgrd. thy dgrd.

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The next anniversary approaches. Get your tickets to Grand Rapids now. Expect that they will only let in 19 people. Maybe camp out. Save me a space. I’ll bring a tent.

And for goodness sake, somebody film it.

TRANSCRIPT REMNANTS

[sic from beginning to end]

[clattering] we re the nail bombs i m nail bomb one a this is nail bomb one b and this is nail bomb two x…two three four…[guitars and drums, three cord song]…why do you do what you do you do what you do who you do…two three…and this next song is [clattering] boys in the front, move to the back knucklehed it somewhere else…two three four…we just wrote these this morning we just became the nail bombs this morning…two three you said that i m saying it again two three four…we want we want we want we want [drum fill, guitars feedback]…revolution is easier than it looks down the barrel of a gun…we re the nail bombs and so are you…get your cam’ra out of my face why can t you just dance….two three five eight…[sounds of a scuffle for the microphone]…i will kick you in the face asshole i swear to god…[guitars tune up drums play slow jazz beat]…this is the music they use to oppress us you play that one more time we break up the band i thought we were going to break up the band anyway oh right because of corprate oppression of our bodies and minds…two three four…i can t sleep you can t sleep we all can t sleep in daddy s house close your eyes a dark suhprise…daddy daddy daddy fuck you…okay that was three, we ve got one more…[more tuning] this is i m just a little lonelier than you by marky kelly…you guys remember marky kelly he s dreamy pop can have a heart attack in that den i don t know that one you ll figure it out…easy chair three four [guitar start to roar and then stop suddenly and the tape cuts]

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