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By Johnny Angel

Way Back Machine:
Remembering how the record-industry wimps took the bite outta the Nervous Eaters

BACK IN THE BAD OLD DAYS of unprofitable punk-rocking, there was this great local band in Boston called the Nervous Eaters. Raunchy and tough, but with a solid straight-ahead rhythm section weaned on Chicago blues and Chuck Berry, they were older cats who loved the Dolls/Ramones/Pistols axis just fine, so they cut their hair and got down with it. In that hoary era, it was possible to sustain an existence on a bare minimum of day-jobbery, so you could have beers aplenty and do the youth-stomp six nights a week, which I did.

The Eaters were a standard on the Boston club circuit, and their malevolent sociopathy--featured in great simple-riffy goodies like "Degenerate," "Get Stuffed" and "Just Head"--was a groovy soundtrack for that pissed-off era.

They wasn't goin' nowhere fast till Cars manager Freddie Lewis figured that the band's lean and mean image was perhaps salable, so he and head Cars-man Ric Ocasek demoed up a batch of Eater tunes and landed the act a deal with Elektra, the Cars' label. (This was post-Candy-O, so whatever the Cars demanded, they woulda got!)

In L.A., the Eaters got majorly seduced by the warm California sun, pretty grrrls and major-label corruption. The band's debut for Elektra was produced by Eric Carmen's man at the boards, Harry Maslin, and Harry convinced head Eater Steve Cataldo that punk rock didn't sell, and let's make a nice updated happy party ersatz Beach Boys fantasia on vinyl.

So when young Johnny Angel and Lisa, his grrrlfriend at the time, spent their last six ducats on this eagerly awaited disc (cleverly packaged with a bite taken out of the cover--"nervous eater," you see), they were astounded to find horns, tinkling pianos, lush falsetto harmonies and no gonads anywhere. We were devastated and pissed off to the max, Jack!

But as I am older and wiser now, it seems to me that this parable should be the primer for every and any young 'un who strays into the arms of the corporate mistress to make love to Mammon's godhead. How many times have you, dear reader, had a local fave act return to the fold with a watered-down slab of shit that bears not the remotest to your beloved's live raveries?

Let the Eaters foolishness serve as a lesson to you--this was an act that could have made a record like Pure Mania or In Too Much Too Soon or Fire of Love (Jeffrey Lee Pierce, RIP), but instead opted for a disc that made Hall and Oates sound like Slayer!

If it's your madness and passion that makes you what you are, hold on to it with all your muscle, cuz the bean-counters of the planet blanch and balk at that flame like it's a Tokyo gas attack.

Take it from the long-forgotten, completely obscure Nervous Eaters, better to live with your middle finger up than die in a cut-out bin. Peace.

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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