January 9, 2012

The Real Gone ............... ..................(Lancaster 1985-86)

By 1985 punk rock had rumpussed through Lancaster unnoticed by all but about 15 people.  The hardcore scene was in full stage-diving swing in nearby Philly, and a 60s garage punk revival was seeping into town on slabs of vinyl and college radio.  Those few Lancastrians who did catch The Blame, The Bodies, or The Impossible Years at the Back Room, or maybe even the Noise Fest, all seemed to know one another and many of them became key players in the next episode of local underground music. 

The Real Gone, on the other hand, was a mashup of unrelated small town parts.  Rex was the Camel smokin', vintage toy collecting, flying-V playin' guitarist, and around for that early punk scene. Steven was the college radio DJ with the Woody Allen t-shirt.  Dave was the towney, stillwater singer-songwriter, downing 16-oz Knickerbockers. I was the still-in-high school, Alien Sex Fiend t-shirt-wearing new wave bass player.

Steven put up an ad for "drummer seeking a band" at State of Confusion, the local punk rock shop....
Steven: “I was a student at nearby Millersville State. Millersville was very conservative politically and musically except for a handful of people that knew the then-secret handshake of underground punk-related music. Millersville and Lancaster in 1984 were terrible places for original music of any kind – bands were expected to play top-40, metal, or MTV-new-wave cover songs to keep assorted sorority sisters, frat boys and puffyshirted club denizens dancing and drinking. At best, a band could get away with playing one or two of their “originals” before some moron shouted them down with “play something we know!” After the Tom Paine’s shows ended in the early 80’s, for the next couple of years from ’83 to early ’85, all Lancaster (and most of central PA) had were nightclubs that booked such bands, plus the occasional visit from some touring incarnation of Foghat.

Through our college radio station and some friends in Philly, I knew about the new culture of independent records, regional scenes and little shows in oddball college towns. This got me excited about listening to and playing rock music again after years of disillusionment with arena rock. We had colleges in Lancaster, so it followed that we could have our own regional independent scene, right? Sure. With the typical hubris of a 21-year old, I set out to start a band that would do nothing less than upend the existing musical order of Lancaster. I didn’t know any of the 15 punk rock people in Lancaster at the time, but it seemed like I might find some like-minded people at this tiny storefront that sold Sid Vicious t-shirts called State of Confusion. So I put a sign up there and at Stan’s Record Bar.
That got Rex, Steven, and me piling into friend Doug's freezing Akron, PA garage in December 1984.  We started off doing Rezillos, Clash, and Yardbirds covers and found we clicked well enough to write some songs and put out another ad for a singer.

Enter Dave:
I spent many years in the basement just writing songs like "No No," which I don't remember where they came from, and finally I met a band that didn't just say "We'll call you." -Death Frisbee interview 1985
There was about a 12-year spread in age between me and Dave, with Steven and Rex somewhere in the middle. Dave showed up to audition with all these songs and little understanding of the punk rock aethetic.  Meanwhile Rex and Steven bonded over jokes about progressive rock and heavy metal that went right over my head since I had no points of reference to the early seventies save my parents' Abba 8-tracks. But we all shared a desire to make something original, and our strange combo promised to defy common musical sense.
Steven: I was intrigued that Dave had been writing these songs at home for himself for years, waiting for someone to discover him. Most of his songs had little to do with any current musical trends or topics – I mean, some of the lyrics had 1973-ish phrases like “the population pill” and spoke of Nixon and Vietnam in the present tense. But they had great melodies and chord changes with (perhaps unintentionally) elements of punk rock, psychedelia and power pop. There was just no outlet for something like that In Lancaster at the time. He seemed lost in time – similar in some ways to guys like Bobb Trimble or Kenn Kweder. I think we were attracted to his outsider-ness, not to mention that he was sitting on a boatload of songs while the rest of us had zero experience writing. In retrospect, it’s pretty improbable that the four of us got together at all.
Now we just needed a name.
Rex: Laura Cotton, fabulous proprietor of State of Confusion, found this marvelous bracelet at this flea market.  And it had all these hip sayings on it, and one of them was "Real Gone." Later, on that same day, we were watching the Dobie Gillis Show.  Maynard G. Krebs was, like, elated with something and he said, "Hey Dobe... That's real gone!"  And we said, "We are too!"
-WIXQ interview 1985
That spring, our first gig at Bob's pig roast in York, PA was a near disaster... Bob's review: "You just don't flow." 

We didn't. But by our second show at State of Confusion in June we had it a little more together.  The store had just moved into bigger digs and became the only alternative (before alternative was the mainstream) in the face of the powers that were the preps, the hessians, and the Loop cruisers (the four blocks the local kids cruised around in their Chevy Novas every weekend night).
Secret of the Shadow (The Revillos)
4 Times Over (No No)
Get Out

The songs were fairly restrained at first, and we recorded a demo that sounded completely bland compared with our live set. When Web of Sound records opened up in Lancaster we started picking up more neo-garage sounds like The Nomads and The Lime Spiders.  The Web's owners, Bill and Carl, had sort of managed The Bodies and did some organizing of local shows, so we recorded a sloppy live demo for them that eventually found it's way into the hands of Rick from Bona Fide Records. 
Violence Is Golden
Bells Are Ringing

Then the Chameleon opened up in the former Tom Paine's Back Room space and became the only club in town to promote original music. I doctored the '69 on my driver's license to look like a '64 and saw lots of great shows there. We played on off-nights when we weren't likely to drive off too much business.

Dave was definitely the wild element in the band and we all started pushing faster and noisier. Then Dave would come partly unhinged and start speaking in tongues in the middle of a song. Sometimes it sounded incoherent and sometimes it all tumbled together in moments of insane brilliance.
Don't Tread On Me (Steven singing Kit & the Outlaws)
Love Is Strange
(Buddy Holly)
They Talk

Best of all were the all-ages shows that were organized by local folks who just wanted to bring good music to town, sponsored by Death Frisbee, Web of Sound, Bona Fide, Punk's Not Dead, Desperate State, and others. These were mostly the same folks who were energized by those early sparks of a local punk scene. Anyone could rent a fire hall, rec center, American Legion, or Moose Lodge and put on a show as long as you didn't put curse words on the flyers.
U Usta  
Last Time Around (The Del-Vettes) 

Other original bands that cropped up around the same time: The Red Roosters, Briggs Beall, The Combat Hamsters, Kenny Gross's Suicide, Nobody's Fools.  There seemed to be a new groundswell of bands, regular places to play, and supportive audiences who were just happy to hear something different.
Steven: By 1986, Lancaster had three independent record stores, at least one club where it wasn’t a hanging offense to play a full set of original music, all these little shows at fire halls and such, and several adventurous radio shows on the 2 college stations. There were still plenty of lousy bands playing INXS covers (or Foghat version 17), but by '86 we also had Hasil Adkins at the Moose Lodge, the Chesterfield Kings and The Stump Wizards at the Chameleon and some scrappy local young’uns playing their own songs. Was it all due to the Real Gone? Of course not, but we at least had some role in getting the ball rolling.
Some pretty basic philosophical differences started to take their toll:
Joy: What are your future plans?
Rex: Basement Tapes
Tom: Just kidding... Right Rex?
Dave: I'd like to make enough of a living with the band so I could go full time and not have to work 8 hours a day.
Steven: I don't think that will ever happen.
Rex: [facetiously] Pardon me?
Tom: I don't think that will ever happen.
Rex: Hey get rid of this guy!... I hope to pursue a career in Shakespearean theater.  And if I can't do that I'll open a body shop.
- Death Frisbee interview 1985
Dave's earnest songwriting and serious desire to make music-that-mattered was a real strong-point for the band.  His songs are the one's that have some substance and hold up pretty well over twenty years later.

The last show we played was opening for the Velvet Monkeys at the Enola American Legion near Harrisburg organized by Bona Fide Records for bands on the upcoming Deadly Spawn compilation. The set ended with us getting cut off for time, and we're remembered to this day for the dumb on-stage argument and near fight between Dave and me. We were real gone for sure.
Underneath and Up Above
Song 22

Members of the Real Gone went on to play in many other bands including Jack Lord's Hair, The Oogies, Charms du Crane, The New Regency 5, Blue, Rocknoceros, Mud Pie Sun, and The Chelsea Squares.

Black & white band photos by Laura Cotton


  1. Charms du Crane- hahaha- I just found a Charms du Crane button in the junk drawer of my desk! Also, I still have that charm bracelet, but sadly the 'Real Gone' charm is missing- coincidence??????

  2. This is amazing! I missed you all by about ten years in lancaster, but you paved the way for all future outcasts stuck there, and I heard a lot about you. What store did Rex end up opening? I know I remember him. Does anyone remember the exact street address of The Web on N.Prince, by any chance? Thanks for sharing this.