Wednesday, 13 June 2018

D Generation: Making Rock & Roll Dangerous (And Fun) Again!

D Generation - Chrysalis/EMI publicity pic 
Photo: Marti Wilkerson
Originally published in American Music Press (1995)

By Devorah Ostrov

When D Generation — a gang of scrappy miscreants with a penchant for making noise and courting trouble — burst onto the New York music scene four years ago, the local press latched onto them with a startling fervor.

The trendy Paper magazine declared the band was "downtown's first legitimate vintage punk troupe in over a decade." The New York Press gushed, "They've got all the bluster and ambition necessary to be a prime bunch of uppity assholes." And Musician proclaimed they were "poised to crash the '90s with their version of New York City street rock 'n' roll."

Stylized punky pictures of the group were plastered on the covers of both Paper and The New York Times Sunday magazine, and their sound (a giddy combination of the fury and social-consciousness of the first couple Clash albums and the perfect pop hooks of Cheap Trick; it's also been compared to the Stooges, the Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, and the Dead Boys) was duly categorized as glam/punk.

D Generation's eponymous debut LP
 (Chrysalis Records/EMI 1994)
Is it all just a lot of hype? Possibly.  But with a savvy attitude towards the biz, and the release of a major-label debut that one reviewer termed "as gritty and glamorous as heading drunkenly home at four in the morning thru junkie-strewn streets with your love of the night," D Gen have proved they can live up to all the hoopla.

According to vocalist Jesse Malin, there was never any question about his career path: all he ever wanted to be was a rock star. "I always wanted to be a rock 'n' roll singer or a rock 'n' roll guitarist," he adamantly states over the phone. "It's always been that way."

Malin has an evangelical zeal when it comes to talking about rock 'n' roll (don't even get him started on the Dickies!), but his first two fave raves were the Who and Kiss. In fact, if you don't count a production of Beatlemania, Malin's first concert experience was seeing Kiss at New Jersey's Capitol Theater when he was nine years old. Which could account for his own in-your-face, over-the-top performance technique. However, it was his discovery of punk rock — specifically, the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols — that he says was "it".

Like most of his bandmates — guitarist Danny Sage, bassist Howie Pyro, and drummer Michael Wildwood — Malin was born and raised in Queens, New York. Guitarist Richard Bacchus is of English origin, but he's lived in New York for so long now it's impossible to tell. Legend has it that they've all known each other since childhood.

Jesse Malin on the cover of Paper magazine
By 1980 Malin and his cohorts were making regular forays to the City, where they could be found hanging out at CBGB's. "We were like 11 or 12 years old," he reflects, "but we'd sneak in." Although they'd missed the club's punk rock glory days, the guys dived wholeheartedly into the then-flourishing hardcore scene and began forming their own bands. Malin and Sage were both in Heart Attack; another group featuring Malin, Pyro and Bacchus was called Atomic Elf (which is also Bacchus' alias); and Pyro ("The oldest guy in the band," Malin helpfully points out) was part of both the Blessed and Freaks.

Nothing much happened with any of these groups, and by the latter part of the decade none of the guys were in functioning bands. Ironically, Malin's last group before an unproductive four or five-year stretch, was called Hope. "None of us could agree on playing together; we were just being babies," says Malin. He wrote the song "Wasted Years" to explain this period of time: "Down I'm going — dontcha stop me I feel so bad/Down I'm showing — my heart I couldn't fake it/I couldn't even talk to you..."

In 1991 Malin and Pyro were hosting popular bashes at a club known as the Green Door where, as one write-up noted: "Jaded men and women drink, fight and fuck to Runaways, Ramones and Motown." At the same time, the seeds of what would become D Generation were being sown.

In an interview with Seconds magazine, Malin described D Gen as "a band of fed up friends," who got together because "there was nothing else going on that we liked, and instead of sitting around and being bored and disgusted with it, we decided to make the music that we wanted to make our whole lives." And he's been quoted as saying that they chose the moniker because "we felt that everything in the world has degenerated: music and art and society; it's all gotten so lame." Besides, they liked the double entendre of a degenerate: "A kid on the corner; someone like us."

D Generation - promo pic
(photographer unknown)
Malin and Pyro originally teamed up with Bacchus to form the nucleus of D Generation. A very early and short-lived D Gen lineup also included guitarist Georgie Seville and ex-U.K. Sub Belvy K on drums. Malin diplomatically attributes their sudden departures to "personal differences," noting that Seville went on to form the bubblegum pop outfit Sticky. "We were more into punk," he states. "Even though we really like melodies and pop we wanted to do more of a punk thing."

Once the brothers Sage and Wildwood finished with some other obligations, the group solidified, and things happened quickly. The band's first shows at the Continental were packed affairs, while other memorable gigs included the celebration of CBGB's 20th anniversary and a support slot for Iggy Pop. "He was really nice to play with," remarks Malin, "but I don't think he was pleased that we made a mess of the stage!"

The Blessed - circa 1979
Featuring Howie Pyro (and Walter Lure)
Meanwhile, a temper-fuelled stunt at Joey Ramone's Rock for Choice benefit gained them some coverage in the local press. "We thought fund-raisers were dull, polite affairs..." began the Daily News feature, which went on to detail how Malin went ballistic when D Gen's set was bumped to a less desirable time slot to accommodate a little-known band managed by industry bigwig Kenny Laguna.

According to the report, Malin hurled a piano stool across the stage, jumped up and down on the piano and shouted, "Fuck Kenny Laguna!"

None of which Malin denies. On the contrary, his ire at being messed with is evident even in retrospect. "I was really pissed off," he stresses. "They fucked our set and put us on last. So, I said some stuff about Kenny Laguna 'cause it was his fault. I was saying all kinds of crazy stuff, and then I broke up the piano stool and the piano keys and we smashed up all the mikes."

Their set ended abruptly when the curtain came down during the fourth song. "And then these Hells Angels — security guards — bouncers... I don't know what they were, took us and threw us in the street," continues Malin. "One minute I was on the stage and the next minute I was on the street!" He snickers just a little too proudly and adds, "That stuff happens to us a lot. We've been thrown out of a lot of clubs."

In 1993 ex-Shrapnel guitarist/songwriter/producer Daniel Rey and Andy Shernoff of the Dictators signed up to co-produce D Generation's initial recordings. The first offering was a white-vinyl 45 featuring the frenzied attack of "No Way Out" (termed "the definitive neopunk anthem for the '90s" in a High Times review) b/w "Guitar Mafia." The follow-up was another 45 which paired "Wasted Years" with the intensely psychotic "Waiting for the Next Big Parade." The singles sold like crazy in the downtown area (according to The Hard Report), with "No Way Out" tweaking interest from several major labels (so said Billboard).

Promo poster for the LP 
Accordingly, when the New Music Seminar rolled into New York that summer, D Gen should have been the city's main attraction. And they were. But not as a featured seminar band. Sticking to their credo that such music biz smooze-fests are "a real scam," the band opted to throw a free extravaganza of their own at the Continental — which drew the biggest crowd of the week.

Then-EMI president Daniel Glass was in the audience at the Continental, and whether it was due to that particular show or because (as Malin contends) they'd been working on getting signed to a major label for months, Chrysalis/EMI signed the band and put them into Electric Lady studios to record a full-length debut.

Produced by David Bianco, the self-titled LP ably presents D Gen's boisterous, yet catchy anthems of loneliness, anger, depression and life happily lived on the edge. Some reviewers bemoaned the slickness of production ("Die-hard fans will grumble that before D Generation made their In Color they should've made their Cheap Trick," sardonically noted CMJ's Steve McGuirl — perhaps in reference to rumors that Rick Nielsen was slated to produce the album), but the band's passion was undeniable.

"These boys are on a mission to seduce the world," wrote an elated Seconds staffer, adding that D Gen "is making Rock & Roll dangerous again ... bringing back the unrestrained extravagance, sexuality — and fun!"

* * *

Flyer for a 1992 show at the Continental 
Divide featuring a pic of the early lineup 
with Georgie Seville and Belvy K.
Photo: Luigi Scorccia
Towards the end of last year, D Generation took to the road in promotion of the album and AMP seized the chance to ask some questions...

AMP: You guys are such superstars on the New York scene. How does your show go down in other parts of the country?

JESSE: We always go over really well because we're really into playing live. We all play like it could be our last day alive; we just go berserk and put everything we've got into it. And it always seems to work. We did really well in Los Angeles, and San Francisco was a lot of fun.

AMP: You opened some shows for Gilby Clarke in the South. How did those gigs go?

JESSE: It was, uh... interesting. He was a nice guy. We don't really connect with that kind of music, but we like to play for people. We want to spread the disease — the gospel — the music, whatever, wherever we can. We want to play all over the world.

AMP: I heard there was an incident in Texas...

JESSE: Yeah... I got arrested in San Antonio because my pants ripped apart, and they had cops in the club. The cops said to cover up or they were taking me to jail. So, I put my overcoat on and did the rest of the show looking like a flasher!

AMP: You're such the Jim Morrison!

D Generation - part of Paper magazine's
 photo spread
JESSE: I didn't do it intentionally! The pants just broke apart! But they just freaked out. In Texas they have cops who carry guns. It's a weird scene.

AMP: Tell me about the video you've shot for "No Way Out."

JESSE: We filmed it at Giorgio Gomelsky's [onetime manager and producer of the Yardbirds] loft, that's where we rehearse. We did it really quick. It's shot in black and white, and it just shows us playing. I thrash around in this closet/locker and it's intercut with weird images of people symbolizing, I guess, what the song is about — people trying to get through life when everyone is trying to beat them down. But it's pretty much just the band doing what we do.

AMP: I was surprised that you guys made a video for MTV. In some of the interviews I've read, you're openly critical of the whole concept.

JESSE: It's really just the state of things. Videos can be done well, but usually they're done in such a way that they give you too much; they don't leave anything to the imagination. And it's not so much MTV. Good things can be conveyed from MTV — it's great that they pushed Green Day and Nirvana — the problem is the way people react to it. They just sit in their house and watch this stuff. They don't go out to see shows; they don't interact with other people or hang out. It's so lame. People aren't as passionate and sick about music as they were when we were kids.

A "Pandora Peroxide" comic by Ray Zell starring D Generation, 
the Last Great Dreamers and Mike Monroe from Hanoi Rocks.
AMP: So, do you think rock 'n' roll was better before MTV?

JESSE: I think everything's gone downhill — music, records... I don't buy too many records by new bands. I would love to, but there's not that many that I appreciate. I guess the last few bands I've really liked are Jane's Addiction, the Replacements, and Nirvana.

AMP: Actually, you guys remind me of the Replacements, especially attitude-wise.

JESSE: Yeah? I like [Paul] Westerberg's songwriting a lot, and I like the spirit of that band. They had a real feeling, a real passion, a recklessness that rock 'n' roll doesn't seem to have anymore.

Flier for a 1994 D Generation show at My Fathers Place
AMP: I've noticed some writers spend a lot of time discussing what you guys wear.

JESSE: I think that's just because we put on some clothes! I don't think we dress up much at all. But I guess compared to kids in shorts and flannel and sneakers we probably look like we're dressed up for GQ!

AMP: What about the shot of the band on the cover of The New York Times Sunday magazine?

JESSE: Yeah, well... We were really new, and they said stand on a fire escape and you'll be in The New York Times. But we learned real quick. We don't want to be tied into that. We don't wanna be male models!

AMP: What about the fashion spread for Paper? You guys were totally being male models!

JESSE: Yeah... Steve Blush did the piece on us and he said they'd put us on the cover. So, we did this photo shoot and they made us wear all these clothes... We were like, "No! We don't wanna!" We got into a big argument with the photographer. He ended up getting us so drunk we were like, "Alright, we don't give a shit." They finally got Danny so drunk he put a skirt on! Look close, you'll see what I'm talking about.

D Generation pose on a fire escape for
The New York Times Sunday magazine. 
AMP: What was the significance of painting "SOLD" across your chest in those photos?

JESSE: I dunno... It was just the way I felt that day. All the fashion stuff and being on a major label.

AMP: You felt like you were selling-out?

JESSE: Like a goof on that. It's like what people were trying to throw at us. We were doing a goof on it.

AMP: Out of curiosity, since Andy Shernoff and Daniel Rey produced your first two 45s, why didn't you have them produce the album as well?

JESSE: We'd already done a whole album with them...

AMP: Wait! There's another album?

JESSE: It's the two singles and like 13 other songs. It was a lot of songs that we demoed. It was supposed to be an album, but it never got out. We re-did some of the songs for the [Chrysalis/EMI] record, and there's some songs that we never put out anywhere.

AMP: What's the sound like on those tracks? Is it rougher?

JESSE: It's a little more garage sounding. Maybe it's a little rawer in some ways, but it's not that much different. It's not like "the real raw stuff."

AMP: Having said that, I'm sure you're aware that the only complaint in otherwise rave reviews was that the album was too slick, too polished...

"Wasted Years" b/w "Waiting for the Next Big Parade" -
the second D Gen 45 produced by Daniel Rey & Andy
Shernoff. (Sympathy for the Record Industry 1993)
JESSE: We just went in and pretty much played. I mean, maybe we had the vocals up a little bit louder... Our live show, I guess, is more raw. It gets a little crazier, a little nuttier. But we're happy with the album. It has to be played really loud to have the right sound!

AMP: Are any of the songs on the album carried over from your previous bands?

JESSE: "Vampire Nation" was played with Hope. The rest were written for D Generation — except "Degenerated," which is a Reagan Youth song.

AMP: And you dedicate the song to the memory of Dave Insurgent. You must have been big fans of Reagan Youth.

JESSE: Yeah, we liked that band a lot. Heart Attack and Reagan Youth always used to play together. We grew up... We were like neighbors.

AMP: Do the emotions you express in your lyrics — loneliness, anger, depression — actually reflect your own outlook on life?

JESSE: We definitely have those moments; being human beings we have all those feelings. It's not all happy and phony like they teach you in school or like you see on TV — that's like a fairy tale world! We acknowledge that it's OK to think about suicide — everyone does. And it's OK to be depressed sometimes. Our music is driven by a lot of anger and negativity, but it's also clawing at something. We're trying to rip the wall down and reach something positive: there is a light at the end of the tunnel; life is worth living. But you've gotta fight the bullshit all the time. It's a struggle, but you gotta make sure that you have some fun 'cause you've only got a certain amount of time.

The Thoughts Behind The Songs On D Generation


Four-track promo cassette
featuring a cover of the Germs' "No 
God," not included on the debut LP
"No Way Out"
Jesse: In a lot of ways this song summarizes the band's state of mind. It's about everything that you've been hit with since you were a kid. Everything they try to beat you down with, to suck the individuality and the life out of you. Sometimes you feel like there's no way out. But there is — you just gotta keep moving, keep smiling, keep living, and find your place. That's why we repeat "just can't stay" and "I'm on my way" over and over.

"Sins of America"
Jesse: The "American Dream" is just a myth. It's a sham that America is this great, free country. It's not all about freedom and being an individual. But that's what we fight for with this band. We come from broken homes. We grew up without much money on the streets of New York. We've seen a lot of unhappiness. But we realize that's the way it is, and we're searching to find a place where things are cool and fun.

"Guitar Mafia"
Jesse: First of all, it's not about us. It's about being programmed. The person in the song doesn't want to become part of the factory, part of the whole corporate world. So, he forms a band 'cause it's what he loves — music. But he gets tied up in the business and it turns out that he's still programmed. It's just like he was working at a corporate job. MTV, the radio... everything is so programmed. There's no Alan Freed; there's no one with that vision and belief in music anymore, playing what they want to play and turning people on to new things.

1994 Chrysalis/EMI promo pic
Photo: Joseph Cultice
"Feel Like Suicide"
Jesse: Danny actually wrote this song. I write most of the lyrics and music, but this one is pretty much all Danny. It's about feeling like things are so bad that you're considering suicide. It's not saying: "Go kill yourself."

"Waiting for the Next Big Parade"
Jesse: The character in the song is paranoid and freaked out. Everywhere he goes, whether he's in the street or alone in his house watching television, he freaks out thinking it's like 1984. Which it really kind of is! All the images that we're given from TV... It's the number one force in this country. People sit on the couch and get the sports game, and phone sex, and rock 'n' roll, and news, and commercials... What turns 'em on, what's funny — it's all dictated from that box.

"Falling"
Jesse: I wrote this when my mom died of cancer. And while I was writing it some friends of ours died from AIDS, so it's about both. Basically, it's about a person who doesn't want to die falling into some kind of illness and dying anyway. And it's about watching someone die, what that experience is like. When it comes down to it, it's all about living — the will to survive, the strength that's inside you, and the power people have inside them to hold on and keep fighting.

Flyer for a 1993 D Generation gig at CBGB
"Wasted Years"
Jesse: It's exactly what was going on before we got [D Generation] together. We were fighting, and we didn't give a shit. Our bands would just keep self-destructing. It was like, 'Fuck you!' and we'd break-up before it got off the ground.

"Stealing Time"
Jesse: It's on the romantic side, but it's about an anti-romantic who builds walls, doesn't want any strings attached, just wants to keep running. But you can't keep running. Eventually you have to connect with people. Eventually you're gonna feel it in your heart. Eventually you get caught. But by then it might be too late.

"Ghosts"
Jesse: It was kind of written about Dee Dee Ramone. He told me how he wanted to slip away from his identity of being in the Ramones and the weight that carried. And he would talk about how he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, walking down the halls, feeling the energy of all the dead artists there. He seemed like he just really wanted to escape from a lot of his past ties, but he just kept being haunted by them. But the ghosts could be anything you're trying to get away from. It could be about trying to get away from your old friends, your old neighborhood, an old lover, an old band, an old crowd that you wanna hide from — but it keeps coming back at you and you can't escape.

D Generation on the cover of Cover magazine
March 1995
"Frankie"
Jesse: There's a few different scenarios in there, but the character of Frankie represents anyone who wants to express themselves sexually. Y'know, there's people who just like to deviate and are turned on by weird stuff. I have some straight friends who like to cross-dress, and I know a lot of girls who like to have sex whenever they want and not be in a relationship — they like to "live like any man would do." So, the song explores the darker side of people; people that are sexually deviant and let it loose, who aren't ashamed about it. Like it says: "What you are is just what you are." So be yourself.

"Working on the Avenue"
Jesse: That was written when I was living on Avenue C. I'd see these drug dealers on the corner... These guys are like heroes, with the gold and the neighborhood status. The drug dealer on the corner, he's a big deal. It's a power thing. When I sing that song, it also reminds me of all the rock 'n' roll people who used to come down the block to buy drugs. They thought it was cool; they thought they were being like Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders.


* * *

EMI dropped D Generation shortly before American Music Press published this interview. But everything turned out OK. We included a note from D Gen's publicist stating that the group had already been picked up by Columbia Records, and by the next time I interviewed Jesse they had a new album and I had a new fanzine! But that's another story.

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