In 1987, I became totally obsessed with the band Redd Kross. A close friend had stolen his older brother's copy of their just-released Neurotica LP, and we played it over and over again under constant fear that our theft would be discovered—an offense that would surely result in us getting beaten up (again.) Fortunately, this friend's brother was sort of a pothead and rarely home, which enabled us to rock out in relative peace and security. Some months later, one of us acquired a Neurotica tour t-shirt, probably at a City Gardens gig, though I have no recollection of seeing them when I was that young. The t-shirt bore a psychedelic image of an androgynous, hippie-nymph hybrid, with the lyric Neurotica is Coming Down Fast emblazoned around it. That graphic made such a big impression on us that we actually took the t-shirt to a local copy shop, stuffed it into a Xerox machine, and ran off a few dozen copies of it. We tacked them up on telephone poles in Princeton and in the lobby of our Trenton high school, posted them inside our lockers, and in a spectacular act of weirdo teenage affection, taped one to the front door of a house in which girls we had crushes on would sometimes hang out. I'm not sure what message we really hoped to get across to them by doing this, but I guess when you're 15 or 16 years old, just letting 'em know you've been there is an important theme to communicate.
Ridiculous teenage melodrama aside, I was recently compelled to scan my last surviving copy of the Neurotica t-shirt flyer and post it here, as I have been unable to find the image or any reference to it online. Yes, that graphic on the left is sourced from a photocopy of a t-shirt made 23 years ago. (NOT scanned for such posterity is the reverse side of the photocopy, which features the scrawled phone number of a well-known NJ fanzine editor, and an incorrectly worked out long division problem. Remember, I was in early high school at the time.)
Redd Kross had already been around for almost ten years when I discovered Neurotica, but in a sense, they were really just hitting their full stride as a band. Their first couple of records offered a unique take on early hardcore, but with a trashy, pop culture lyrical obsession taken to an absurd degree. Considered alongside their fellow inhabitants of the left coast punk rock musical sphere, it might be fair to say that Redd Kross were more fun than Black Flag, and a lot smarter than the Descendents. Use the player below to hear "Notes and Chords Mean Nothing to Me" from the Born Innocent reissue.
By the time Neurotica came out, Redd Kross' music and appearance were utterly changed from their earlier incarnation. Recognizing the flash-in-the-pan nature of first wave hardcore, the band morphed from bratty, pubescent thrashers to technically-proficient prettyboys who rocked like the MC5. The title track from that wholly brilliant album remains one of my favorite songs ever, and
whatever there was to be said about Jesus, Sigmund Freud, and salami sandwiches at the time, well... Redd Kross were clearly the ones who were going to say it. Listen to Neurotica's title track using the player below, and you'll get a pretty fair sense of what I thought the greatest band in the world ought to have sounded like.
The pressure to have rigidly codified taste in music when you're a teenager was always a struggle for me. However misguided, the sense that your interests are what define you is never more urgent than when you're young, and I frequently second guessed myself because I was simultaneously into metal, hip-hop, punk rock, Zeppelin, and Depeche Mode. However, my omnivorous musical diet still had a hard time getting wrapped up in Redd Kross' next album, 1990's Third Eye which is essentially a major label glam-pop record. 1990 was also the year I escaped high school with barely passing grades, and the cultural climate of the day had clearly identified that kind of music as anathema for myself and the kind of people I associated with. But there was a nagging sense of greatness lurking beneath the album's shimmering, zillion-dollar production, which I'm happy to report I eventually came to terms with. Song for song, Third Eye might even eclipse Neurotica in a totally biased comparison, but in the three year gap between them, stuffing t-shirts into office equipment as an act of dedication fell off my radar, and that's probably why Neurotica retains the edge on my personal rock meter. Whereas it is a crucial weirdo relic from the pre-grunge musical underground, Third Eye is an astounding triumph for a band that started out playing thrashy odes to Linda Blair. Listen to Third Eye's "Love is Not Love" using the player below.
Unlike almost everything else I really liked in 1987, my appreciation for Redd Kross has gotten stronger over the years. Hazy recollections of how the Neurotica tour shirt was acquired notwithstanding, I finally got to see them live only a couple of years ago, in Brooklyn, where they completely tore the house down. My longstanding admiration is rooted in a couple of critical details: They've never broken up, but they've also never released a bad record. (Probably because there's usually a 3-4 year lag between them—something more bands ought to consider before polluting their catalogs with floaters.) Furthermore, they've apparently reconciled their hardcore roots with the more sophisticated band they've become, as 90 second tantrums like the classic "Standing in Front of Poseur" don't sound out of place in the live set, even when buttressed by power ballads like "I Don't Know how to be your Friend" or alt-rock hits like "Jimmy's Fantasy" or "Annie's Gone". As a result of all this, they're one of very few bands who've been around for 25+ years who don't appear to be going through the motions for the sake of a paycheck, and that positions them in an enviable spot for a legacy act. Whatever their motivations, I continue to hang anxiously on their every release.
Enjoy some critical Redd Kross video after the jump.