Timing is everything. Earlier this summer, a young thrash/post-punk band based here released Ugly/Heartless, its debut LP on Texas-based Pluto Records -- and no sooner had the disc hit the streets than the shit hit the fan. Because when these musicians banded together during a sweltering summer three years ago, they chose as their name the Jonbent, never realizing just how hot things could get.
The last few days have been a "nightmare," admits publicist Andrew Steinthal. And finally, in response to a media onslaught that knocked out the band's Web site (thejonbenet.com), the band members issued this explanation of their name:
The JonBent Ramsey murder happened when we were all 11 and 12 years old. The media's saturation of the story was obsessive and extreme, and being that young, we were immediately detached from the reality of what happened. The name JonBent became a piece of pop culture of our generation. Fast forward to 2003 when we started the band and needed a name before our first show. The Ramsey case had been long gone off the media's radar, but the name Jonbent came up as a possible band name. We all agreed that we liked the name itself, and that it was far away from being another clich band name. So we named our band the Jonbent.
There was never any intention to mock or belittle what happened to JonBent Ramsey. To think we have ever wanted to gain notoriety from the connection to the murder is just wrong. To us, the name was and is still just a word.
We recognize the current news events have again brought this issue to the forefront. We've already turned down numerous press requests for comments because we have nothing to say that's any different than anyone else. If he did it, let him hang.
Jello Biafra, a musician originally from Boulder, knows that a clever name can be both a blessing and a curse. After all, he named his seminal punk band the Dead Kennedys. "You pick a band name that strikes a nerve, you have to be able to back it up," says Biafra from his home in San Francisco. "But we sure have come a long way since the Mothers had to add 'of Invention' to their name in order to get their major label to release their album."
Biafra hadn't heard of the Jonbent before this week, but "people have already played with JonBent, anyway." Including him. On www.alternativetentacles.com, his Web site, the musician's history begins with this: "1958 - Biafra born and raised in Boulder, CO, six blocks from the JonBent Ramsey murder site. So far, he has not been named as a suspect." And when Biafra made Never Breathe What You Can't See with the Melvins in 2004, Biafra dubbed himself "Osama McDonald," while Buzz Osborne was Jon Bent Milosevic.
"Now, after this delusional guy made his confession in order to escape being sent to a Thai prison, JonBent is back in the news," Biafra says. "The whole thing is a huge, uniquely Boulder-ish tragedy. Had JonBent lived, she might well be plaguing us as the next Britney Spears right now. So a major cultural catastrophe has been avoided."
There's always room for Jello. -- Patricia Calhoun
The Advantage and what's left of NES music
A good chunk of underground art and music in America has been transformed into a giant kaleidoscopic gumdrop by a movement that I call "neo-pop arts 'n' crafts" -- a high-fructose fusion of graffiti, video game design, do-it-yourself punk, Japanese toys, Dungeon & Dragons, vintage psychedelia, outsider art, Saturday-morning cartoons and your grandma's needlepoint projects. Thankfully, this aesthetic is totally running on fumes. The original innovators have moved on, and all that remains are bandwagoneers pumping out an astounding amount of identical-looking product, including hand-stitched T-shirts covered in neon unicorns, homemade comic books, faux-antique collage work and action figures for adults.
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Nowhere is this stale state of affairs more apparent than at your local indie record store, which leads us to Elf-Titled, the Advantage's covers album for 5 Rue Christine (a subsidiary of the Kill Rock Stars imprint). With artwork depicting pixilated bikini babes on the beach washing down a car-size version of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System from the late-'80s, Elf-Titled sees this Sacramento quartet run through a 16-track collection of perky background tunes from such NES chestnuts as Contra, Metroid, Castlevania and even Wizards and Warriors.
Now it's not the idea of grown men performing childhood video game music that irks me; at 31, I still love a good fart joke. It's just how by-the-numbers the Advantage's renditions of these digital ditties are. Outside of a cool electric sitar sound, this listless music (just like those neon unicorns) drips with an ironic sense of retro-novelty typically associated with products hawked at Spencer's Gifts. That wasn't at all what the neo-pop arts 'n' crafts movement was about when its first rumblings were felt in the late '90s in places like Providence, Boston, Brooklyn and the Bay Area. Listening to the fantastical noise-metal temper tantrums of Lightning Bolt's Wonderful Rainbow LP or taking in one of Dearraindrop's acid-meets-Romper Room art installations reveals first-generation practitioners who aren't merely retreating into the comfort of 20-year-old youth culture but transforming that very culture into an aggressive, complex and deeply surreal multimedia art form. What's more, in the late '90s the Midwest group Coin released two superb records (via the Anal Log label) exploding with goofy yet maniacally pounding dance-jammers that were the result of the group's rewiring the short-lived Atari computer. Now that was some over-the-top video game absurdity. None of that excessive silliness is to be found anywhere on Elf-Titled.
I can envision a typical Advantage gig these days. Sweaty twentysomethings are all packed together like sardines sporting threads silk-screened with robots vaguely reminiscent of Transformers (as well as more of those damn unicorns). As the Advantage kicks into high gear, making that transition from the bubbly Ducktails theme to the pulsating score "Mission 5; Forest of Death" from Double Dragons III, it proves too much for these hipsters. Mass hypnosis kicks in, and they descend into a collective nostalgia for them good old days when the first Bush administration ran things, and they spent their days sitting around suburban homes playing Super Mario Bros. Oh, what a glorious time. -- Justin F. Farrar
The Advantage appears Wednesday, September 6, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-862-2513.