It’s A Short Road to The Top
The story of The Hitler Youth is covered in anecdotal form in Lloyd’s Perth Punk Memoirs – highly recommended reading. This page presents an alternative personal perspective of the band and its short history (which wasn’t quite as short as per the obituary at the top of the page…the band was around in various incarnations for some months prior to “stabilising” its line-up for one final, fatal week).The final line-up comprised Lloyd (vocals) and me (guitar), bass player Phil North and drummer Max Kittler (good German name, in the circumstances). Phil and Max had answered my hastily placed ads in The Sunday Times ‘Musical’ classifieds the fortnight before the UWA gig; we had rehearsed as a complete band only 2 or perhaps 3 times over the ensuing week (and a couple more times with Phil sans Max), including lunchtime on the day of the gig – an incendiary penultimate performance that hoisted us to a peak too high, leaving us nowhere to go but down. And down we fell in an ignominious onstage heap at the gig hours later. But I am racing ahead of myself…
Conceived In Rage…
Lloyd and I had been writing songs and rehearsing in shifting lineups since the breakup of The Geeks in July/August 77. None of the formations had worked very well, and I can say with conviction that it was a troubled period for me. I had been shocked and disappointed by James Baker’s defection from The Geeks (and the manner of that defection), and even more so when I attended the first Victims gig at the Governor Broome Hotel mere weeks later and found that they were doing all the great songs James and I had co-written and that Lloyd had also contributed to – songs that were built around James’ lyrics but were essentially bona fide Geeks songs, and that the growing crowds were applauding as Victims originals. I was angry, frustrated, felt ripped off, and truth to tell, did not fully believe in the band Lloyd and I were intent on forming out of the ashes of The Geeks (the abrupt and, to my mind, way premature demise of which I was still mourning).
…In The Image Of A Savage God
The Geeks had been the very frontline of Perth’s fledgling punk movement, and it was unthinkable for Lloyd and me, as the founding members, to go down unrecognised without a fight – we had to get another band together and now. But Lloyd was thinking ever more extremely in a musical sense (symbolically raising a middle finger to The Victims and Cheap Nasties in the process, I suspect). His insatiable lust for blasting rock could no longer be appeased by anything that was around – even the sacred Stooges – and it was much the same for me. Although he raved about The Saints’ first album (as did I…curiously, the Perth punk set did not recognise it as the outstanding release it was), there was not much else coming out of the bubbling global hotpot of punk that inspired him. The only outlet left was to create the blinding energy and speed he craved from the few resources lil’ ol’ Perth had to offer – and they were few indeed. Believe me, despite the emergence of The Cheap Nasties and Victims and their small but growing tribe of fans, most of 1977 Perth had no idea what was going on, and the musicians who responded to my frequent hopeful ads in The Sunday Times seemed most ignorant of all. We gave up on discovering another kindred soul like James Baker, as we had been lucky enough to do with The Geeks. Anyone with the interest and musical equipment would do! We would mould them in the image of the savage god of pure rocknroll energy that we worshipped.
We? I was there storming across no man’s land with Lloyd alright – I wanted to form a band that would blow The Victims off stage – but at heart I was a songwriter rather than a performer, and when he started presenting his first solo originals in the form of 20 second blitzes like machinegun bursts that comprised a single line of lyrics repeated over and over, such as Wet My Bed (“wet my bed, wet my bed, oh baby won’t you wet my bed…”) and Nothin’ To Do (“nothin’ to do, nothin’ to do, oh baby got nothin’ to do…”), belted out faster than I could count them in and way beyond the physical capacity of the average drummer to keep time, the vocals a series of manic, barely articulated chants furiously vented over one or at most two hyper-thrashed chords at ear-splitting volume…well, in all my labouring over my songs since I started writing at 16, I hadn’t seen or imagined nothin’ like that, and I was not sure of my place in that maelstrom.
I matched Lloyd’s blurring pace and raging energy with a hypersonic effort of my own, Charles Beamish, and in hindsight it was a freak creation that I confess I am quite proud of. However, we were so far out there that even the punk fringe seemed to be growing ever more distant as we lurched and pitched on a boiling sea of musical mayhem, cut asunder by our radicalism and driven by the tempestuous gales of Lloyd’s musical fury. I worried that in our extremism we were isolating ourselves beyond recovery, that our audience would be so diminutive, even among the punks, that we would never evolve out of rehearsal mode. Worse, there was no place among the molten offerings of The Hitler Youth for some of the songs I had begun to write in private, hard rockin’ and beating with a racing punk heart though most of them still were. I generally took more care over lyrics than would have been considered respectable in The Hitler Youth, the melodies and structures of the songs newly conceived in my musical closet were often too complex for the sort of detonation treatment that Lloyd’s energy-at-all-costs ethos demanded, and some of them – good lawd – were magnum opuses of up to 2 or 3 minutes in length, and ambled along at relatively subdued Ramones tempo!
What’s In A Name?
Then there was the name. I had never been comfortable with “The Hitler Youth” – had rejected it outright on several occasions, in fact, going as far back as The Geeks days – but Nazi themes kept surfacing in Lloyd’s blackly comic lyrics, and even the riffs of the songs that had come from me seemed possessed by the spirit of something dark and sinister and threatening and wearing jackboots (and not at all comic, it has to be said)! There was artistically admirable drama in that and a sense of the verboten that, I must confess, appealed to the subversive in me (and the self-saboteur), but I was no fascist and I was, like just about all the punk devotees in Perth, undeniably middle-class, like it or not…I didn’t like it, and did my best to deny it, again like just about all the punk devotees in Perth. But my values niggled at me. I was left wing politically, though not really a political animal, and although I was always mindful that The Hitler Youth was a band with only two agendas – primarily to plug into pure rock energy and play with maximum blast at hyperspeed, and secondarily to shock – would the punters pick up on this?
Red Rag To Taste
I had serious doubts. I worried that we would be seen as a politically motivated band of anti-Semitic thugs genuinely inspired by der fuehrer, when in fact we were merely smartarse misfits with a tendency to obnoxiousness (Lloyd) and iconoclastic by default (me), determinedly alienated, utterly irresponsibly celebrating an unusual if not singular brand of immaturity that was hopefully smirkable at least, and maybe not without some modicum of perverse charm even – or was this stretching the bounds of cultural possibility way too far? I feared so. No, I knew so. With Lloyd contributing ditties like Aryan Boy and our choice of Ramones covers, Blitzkreig Bop and Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World, those without a keen sense of irony and an astute understanding of our, er, unusual attitudinal positioning might have gotten entirely the wrong idea about the Nazi theme that our material projected and seen it as other than the red rag to taste and established values that it actually was (remember, this was 1977, before the emergence of the skinhead “Oi” bands – we would never have settled on The Hitler Youth as our handle if there had been any risk of being lumped in with those National Front boneheads). Lloyd argued that his lyrics were so obviously ironic/comic that only a moron would take them seriously. With titles like Cancer Victim, Death Hurts, Epileptic Love and Mongol Move, could there be any doubt about the wryly humorous lyrical intent and the rejoicing in puerility and tastelessness that informed it? Well, again, for some folk, I feared so! Lloyd didn’t fear so, and didn’t care. And in the end, when Kim Salmon approached us about playing the coming UWA gig the night before the promo ads were to be designed and printed up, Lloyd got his way – The Hitler Youth it was.
The Hitler Youth Steals The Show
I don’t recall whether we were a functioning unit as a band when Kim Salmon’s gig offer came along. We had gone through several lineups in the months after the Geeks split as we struggled to find a rhythm section that was a) vaguely rhythmic and/or b) prepared to hang around long enough to work up a playable repertoire. Either we had just gotten on to Phil North and/or Max, or simply threw our hats over the fence and committed to play the gig – a scant 2 weeks away – in the hope that we would find a rhythm section in time. O the foolish and laudable blind faith of youth! Anyway, the posters came out and were plastered all over pillars and noticeboards around UWA, and much to our delight the design drew thematically on The Hitler Youth, featuring those reliably impressive Nazi kitsch standbys, swastikas and barbed wire. We were locked in!
Kicking Out The Ram Jams
We had gone through a few lineups in our troubled gestation period, and before I get on to the gig, there are a couple of characters from the pre Phil-and-Max lineups that are worthy of brief mention purely on account of their singularity. One was a weird bass player named Robert who never spoke and rarely played, spending most of the rehearsal time with his back turned, fiddling with his amp settings and “tuning up”. He had no idea about punk rock, but his equipment was top-line; actually, he put it to so little use outside “tuning up” that we took weeks to decide that he wasn’t our man (if indeed, we did decide – he may have left of his own accord…my memory fails me here).
Then there was the drummer who lasted longest, a Dutch guy, Hans. He was a serviceable skinman; stylistically effete in comparison with James Baker, he was technically more proficient – though this was not necessarily a plus. Of most concern was his unfortunate revelation that his musical preference was funk (!) and his proclamation of Ram Jam as the next stage in rock’s evolution on the strength of their single of that time, Black Betty, which he declared a “new form of music” (!!). I can only surmise that we made generous cultural allowances for him given his non-English-speaking background (beacons of multicultural sensitivity as we were), or more likely, were so damned desperate to have a band that we were prepared to tolerate any number of otherwise inexcusable transgressions. Well, not quite any number, as it happened. Hans was a junkie, initially unbeknown to us, and when it became evident beyond reasonable doubt that he had hawked our borrowed PA to fund his habit (the circumstances that provided him with the opportunity are a slight tale of little import here) it signalled a natural conclusion to his residence on the drummer’s stool.
We Got Da Riddum
To the final lineup, then. Whether we were a unit one week or two before our fatal debut gig (I cannot recall, exactly), Phil and Max were certainly newly arrived as the big date loomed. Lloyd and I had developed a set-sized repertoire of songs in earlier formations, and we had had some sessions going through our stuff with Phil before Max arrived on the scene. Phil North was an ex-member of a recently disbanded quasi-glam outfit with a vaguely new wave image (yep) called Suicide Hotel*, about which we knew little and cared less, had an Eastern States tour under his belt and plenty of onstage experience and was quite simply a great bass player – we couldn’t believe our luck. He quickly picked up our songs and although not tuned in to the punk revolution of the time, was impressed, which in turn impressed us.
*Interestingly, I discovered via a conversation with James Baker that Suicide Hotel vocalist, Jerry Scott, was the singer in James’ 1974 New York Dolls-styled outfit, The Slick City Boys.
Max was 17 years old and – again, we couldn’t believe our luck – an obviously gifted drummer. He had never played with a band to this point, but we were all gig virgins apart from Phil, so that was fine. Max was into TRex, Deep Purple and Hawkwind, had never heard of punk, and later confessed that he didn’t know what the hell to make of The Hitler Youth; he told me years later that he thought he had gone mad, or touched down among aliens! Listen to the Hitler Youth songs on the Burned CD (end of this paragraph, below), and you’ll have some sympathy for his position. He was reluctant to commit to the gig, but we were not taking no for an answer at that late stage. So anxious was Max that he wouldn’t remember the songs that he brought along a portable tape recorder to tape the first of the two rehearsals we had as a full band before the gig (it might well have been the second rehearsal he taped, actually, which was only hours prior to the gig). By listening to the tape at home, he was hoping to at least have the beginnings and endings of the songs right for the Big Debut.
We coached Max through the entire repertoire in that single intense full-band rehearsal; when he felt he was sufficiently familiar with a song, we would tape it, then move on to the next. Max kept this tape, and many years later mentioned it to me in passing. I was mildly curious to have a listen, but didn’t chase him up about it until a year ago, when in the early planning stages for this website. Max burned it to CD for me, warned of the extremely poor quality of the sound, but added that the speed of the songs was “unbelievable.”
When I first put the CD on I was expecting to have a laugh, but my amazement at the speed and energy of the songs wiped the impending smile clear off me dial. I had forgotten just how musically extreme we were. And Lloyd’s vocals! There’s an ‘instrumental’ section in the middle of a stomping version of Louie Louie in which he chucks an Iggyesque yelping/screaming fit so off the edge it’s jawdropping – and not a little scary. Have a listen:
I burned a copy of the CD for ol’ Lloyd, and he went apeshit: he declared it unique, the stuff of legend, “the most cataclysmic rock ever recorded.” I was – and remain – less than overwhelmed, because for me there are more elements to consider than pure energy; some of the songs, Cancer Victim for example, are to my mind so rudimentary and undeveloped as to be mere sketches (to be fair, though, I am relying on my admittedly faded memory of the melody, which is not audible on the recording beneath the tediously repetitive and rather uninspiring riff). However, I genuinely believe that this recording is a piece of punk history that should be heard. Lloyd is right this far – it is unique for the time in the withering ferocity of its attack, in the speed barriers it smashes through, and in its sheer blinding intensity of energy. It is a pity that the vocals are too often submerged beneath the monstrous roar of hypermanic beat and blitz, sometimes so far beneath as to be indiscernible, but in a way the abysmal sound quality works in the band’s favour, adding to the sense of genuinely shocking surreal power that surges through the murky mix, refusing to be contained by the flawed recording, or denied by the passing of the years unheard.
I am grateful to Max for keeping this sole recording of The Hitler Youth in full flight, and for making it available as soon as I asked for it. I am grateful because without this recorded evidence my words might be no more than the hyperbolic ravings of another middle-aged ex-punk narcissistically reliving his glory days in public – or worse, seeking to fabricate them in retrospect. The truth is, there was no glory for The Hitler Youth; only in this recorded remnant that Max kept for who knows what nostalgic reason is there any evidence of what was, and what could have been.
The Blitzkrieg Flop
With the fortunate materialisation of Phil and Max at the death-knock, then, The Hitler Youth had metamorphosed virtually overnight into a musically disciplined force with a killer rhythm section. Yet, as touched on above, for most of the band the debut (and only) gig that eventuated was a shocker. It didn’t help that Lloyd and I had alienated ourselves from Perth’s small punk set, had set ourselves up for some treatment in our contemptuous and, it has to be said, mean-spirited chiding of The Cheap Nasties. It especially didn’t help that one of us – me, I think – had boasted that when The Hitler Youth finally took the stage we were going to cause a riot. If we’d managed to take off like a supersonic fighter jet as we had in the rehearsal of the afternoon of the gig, we may have made good my boast.
Ridiculous as this may sound, we played so fast in the breakneck numbers that I needed to warm up my arm muscles before I could hope to keep up the pace on guitar – or so I believed; thus, we decided to open the set with a one-chord improvised thrash during which I could blast away with accelerating rhythm until I felt I was ready for the coming onslaught of sonic machinegun bursts. The rest of the band could do what they liked while I belted away, as long as it was cacophonous and unrestrained. The whole thing was supposed to go off like The Velvet’s Black Angel Death Song or Sister Ray, or The Stooges’ LA Blues, rising to a horrendous crescendo which I was hoping might culminate in Lloyd going genuinely mental in some spectacular way.
What happened in reality was that I started my windup and was mortified to discover not only that my amp wasn’t mixed up loud enough and sounded rather feeble (the spatial reaches of the uni refectory were vast by comparison with the boy scout hall we rehearsed in), but that the rest of the band was not making the effort at chaos that we had planned. Phil was throbbing away on bass, and doing his best to look belligerent, but poor Max was clearly lost and terrified behind the drums, smacking perfunctorily at the snare and cymbals and looking about wild-eyed for some direction from Lloyd and I.
Lloyd was a crashing disappointment! Rather than taking up my suggestion to scream out “Cunts! Cunts! Cunts!…” at the audience, as agreed prior to going on, he was reciting Shakespeare (or so he later claimed…the foldback was so poor that I couldn’t hear a thing). A demented performance of the bard might have been laudably perverse and in-yer-face, but alas, there was nothing threatening or wild about it at all. The screaming and yelping and near-self-immolation I had anticipated (completely unrealistically…it was Lloyd’s first gig, too!) was not in the equation. In fact, he had his back half-turned to the crowd and his face all but covered with the hand holding the mike, as if trying to hide away from the tame and frankly embarrassing display that was unfolding. The supposedly cataclysmic opening sputtered to an uncertain close, and we were left looking about glazed-eyed at each other as we awaited Lloyd’s cue – my cue? someone’s fucking cue! – for the next song.
As the great mass of student attendees uninitiated to the punk scene watched on in vague bemusement, sporadic jeers of derision issued from the small punk clique of Victims and Cheap Nasties band members and devotees who had taken exception to the mouthing off and general contempt that had come their way in the preceding weeks from the despised (though unheard) Hitler Youth – from Lloyd mostly, but I have to plead guilty to wilfully alienating myself also. Compulsive clique aversion. Personality problem, probably. Not that we had been overtly publicly offensive – rather, as members of The Geeks, and since, we had remained aloof from the newly bonded punk set. The scene was so small, they obviously knew who we were and had decided that if we weren’t wiv ’em, we were agin’ ’em. Indeed, Lloyd and I had been derisive of The Cheap Nasties and less than rapturous in our reception of The Victims, though only in private conversation, the contents of which had evidently been dutifully passed along. Then there was our association with an ugly incident at a Cheap Nasties City Hotel gig, in which an old school acquaintance of mine (a Jimmy Woodser, as full as the family po) who was standing with us had taken our snide but private jibes at the Nasties as a cue to elevate the mode of critical expression to loudly obnoxious, drunkenly catcalling the band and at one stage moving to the edge of the stage to spit at the feet of Neil Fernandez, whom he labelled “nig nog” for all to hear. I was ashamed to be seen to be a party to this, and should have made this clear to Neil (whom I had never actually met). I didn’t. I still regret not doing so.
Whatever, we were paying the price for all our perceived misdemeanours this fine evening of our debut gig (we had begun paying weeks earlier, actually, when a Perth punk fanzine whose name escapes me was published featuring putdowns of The Hitler Youth based on Christ-knows-what…certainly nothing to do with our music, since our stuff was known to no one but the band members at that time).
We recovered somewhat from the disastrous opening, and some songs drew some half-hearted applause, but the gig was flat, foldback was virtually non-existent and we couldn’t hear each other, our blinding rehearsal energy of mere hours before deserted us, and the mix was crap, and all but Lloyd found the experience demoralising…for me it was downright humiliating, not only because of the sneering interjections from the punk clique, but because I knew we had let ourselves down. One of the knockers yelled at the conclusion of the gig “What happened to the riot?” I asked myself the same question, and it was to ring in my ears for weeks to come.
The only redeeming feature of the night for me was my subsequent good fortune during Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs’ set to witness a member of the campus intelligentsia having a splash on the packed dancefloor through unzipped jeans, one arm encircling his girlfriend’s waist, the other throwing back another beer, while his coterie engaged in conversation around him in apparent disregard of his disinhibition. Such were the admirable qualities that Dave Warner inspired in his followers.
After the gig, there was no further contact from Phil or Max, and I had no heart to chase them up. Lloyd made no effort to get the lineup back together, either. The Hitler Youth had imploded without conferral – a fittingly extreme demise for a band that was extreme in every way from beginning to end, except in our sole public showing when it counted most!
The passing of The Hitler Youth marked an end to my musical collaboration with Lloyd. I had new songs that called for a new band. I felt that there was no longer room for Lloyd and me in the same band – not if my songs were to be authentically self-expressive. I was a willing accomplice in The Hitler Youth, I wanted to set the city ablaze and burn down The Victims and Nasties in the process, but I thought of it as essentially Lloyd’s band. Always I harboured restless doubts, always I aspired to something more along the lines of The Geeks: songs that rocked hard fuelled by punk adrenalin, but that more people could relate to, that I could relate to! I wanted creative freedom to do as I pleased, to be free of authority of any sort; I called my next band The Orphans.
For Lloyd, it was the end of his creative involvement in punk, or music-making of any kind, for that matter. Looking back, that is a hell of a pity. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but listening to the recorded evidence I believe that with development his vocals could have been something special. He was on his own amongst the first-wave punk singers in Perth in terms of energy, and while his modelling of Iggy was perhaps a little too obvious in his renditions, there was a quality of unfeigned irreverence and a threat of bedlam in his performances that set him apart from the pose – the ‘tood – that quickly became endemic and tiresome in standard punk vocals. Further, it should be acknowledged that the molten core of The Hitler Youth, the extremity, the quest for unattainable speed and energy, the refusal to compromise and the commercial impossibility that begat – derived mostly from Lloyd’s vision. He wouldn’t call it vision, but that’s what it was.
You know that hackneyed philosophical dilemma over whether a tree that falls unseen and unheard in a forest falls at all? Well, as far as I’m concerned that’s a no-brainer – of course it does, and to think otherwise is to give in to an arrogance that I find quite peculiar. The Hitler Youth occupied a unique place in the punk scheme of things and is deserving of recognition. If this site does nothing else but to give eyes and ears to the forest, then, boys and girls, the effort will have been worthwhile.
© Ross Buncle 2005. All rights reserved.