The Story of the Clitboys

We were teenagers. We lived in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee. We knew nothing.

But we felt deeply about everything.

We were angry, confused, disgusted, frightened, and yet somehow hopeful. We were also blissfully unaware that three kids from Wisconsin could make music that would continue to mean something to listeners more than three decades later. We had no long-range plan. Our goal in 1982-3 was to shred and to speak the truth. And flip-off square society.

Our name? Our sexual politics? “The Clitboys” sounded transgressive, but it didn’t really mean anything based on an ideology. We just liked how uncomfortable it made our parents. And yet, even then, our songs display a social consciousness and value system that today might be called “progressive.” Loudly declaring “gay’s OK” in 1982 – – coming from three straight guys — was fairly radical. Hating the KKK was not, but, hey, our intentions were good.

So-called “punk rock” – or “hardcore” or “thrash metal” or whatever name you like – spoke to our adolescent angst, our sneaking suspicion that “the game of life” was rigged. Even as 17 year-olds, we three were aware that much of what we were being taught in school and shown on TV and lectured to by authority figures was a nice-sounding catalogue of lies. Bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones inspired us to learn our instruments, to get “tight.” Bands like the Dead Kennedys and the early Clash inspired us to question the dominant paradigm.

Our guiding principle — “we don’t play the game” — was what “punk” really meant. To us, at least.

Everything happened quickly. I remember our basement rehearsals at Donnie’s in Whitefish Bay and Mike’s in Glendale, where hours would fly past, 2-minutes at a time. I remember our early gigs in South Milwaukee (although I can’t recall how we first got booked) filled with energy and power and catharsis. You never felt like you had an audience — more like fellow participants in a sacred rite, congregants at an exorcism. Our tribe was small but easy to identify: the most passionate, most expressive, most malcontented youngsters in town, the ones who didn’t fit in and didn’t want to fit in.

We played our hearts out and the rest seemed to unfold naturally. In what seemed like just a few months (and this was before the Internet and cell phones, when life was slower) we went from being a trio of earnest, modestly talented Milwaukee high-school kids to being recorded by a Los Angeles-based label called Feedback Records, and featured in Maximum Rock n’ Roll, and playing with the best hardcore band to ever emerge from Milwaukee, our local heroes Die Kreuzen (little known fact: the great Dan Kubinski makes a cameo as one of the choral screamers on “We Don’t Play the Game”), and playing out of town and hanging out with everyone: Articles of Faith, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, MDC, Minor Threat, Necros, Suicidal Tendencies and, yes, the Beastie Boys (at a New York house concert, before they went hip-hop). We also got a nice letter from Bob Mould of Husker Du, with an upside down postal stamp next to which he had written, “this means anarchy.”

After we lost Donnie, Mike and I auditioned a few drummers and played one or two gigs with a replacement. But the experiment was clearly over. Every show the Clitboys performed, every song we recorded, every radio interview — it all started and ended in less than two years. What might have been a brief chapter in life has become its own story. The Clitboys have stood the test of time thus far — and not because we were the best or baddest, the slickest or sickest. We were just ourselves. Truly. Like the bands and writers we admired from that period, we were real: honest, naked, transparent, heartfelt and committed. Fully present.

And we were tight.

I’m proud to have been a Clitboy. In many ways I’ve never stopped.

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