In the fall of 1981, before he was old enough to take the SAT or get a learner’s permit, a Clifton high school kid named Dave Scott (né Schwartzman) and his friend Paul Richard formed a band called Adrenalin O.D.
AOD (as they were commonly known) were not only insanely fast but also hysterically funny — in a genre renowned for its overarching seriousness. AOD would go on to become the most important hardcore band in New Jersey, spreading their rapid-fire silliness coast to coast to promote the records they released on the indie label they started, Buy Our Records. In the process, they influenced a generation of like-minded punks, including Philly’s Dead Milkmen, Chicago’s Screeching Weasel, and Los Angeles’ NOFX. They performed in Berkeley, Calif., to underage fans who would go on to form Rancid and Green Day, and hung out in Glenn Danzig’s Lodi basement.
Forty-one years later, Scott has written it all down and shared decades of road stories in “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Walla Walla: The Wacky History of Adrenalin O.D.” a well-illustrated tour diary and memoir available now from DiWulf Publishing. And, as they have done every now and then since their official breakup three decades ago, the band has gotten back together to celebrate, with reunion shows at Bowery Electric in Manhattan and, fittingly, Dingbatz in Clifton, where the story started.
I was lucky enough to be there at the beginning. Scott, at the ripe old age of 16, came across like a 40-something Borscht Belt comedian doing shtick in between the band’s furious onslaught of bass, drums and guitar. I met them at AOD’s second performance, which took place at a bunker-like biker bar called Mile Square City in Hoboken — a few blocks from Maxwell’s, where AOD would later play many times.
Promoter Joe Foy had convinced the owner to let him book Saturday afternoon hardcore shows and, for about six months, this little dive bar (in what was then the extremely hardscrabble town of Hoboken) played host to both up-and-coming bands from New Jersey and New York as well as national touring acts like TSOL. AOD played their second and third shows there after debuting at a Clifton High School battle of the bands, two weeks earlier.
But Mile Square City’s life as a venue ended with that second show, on a fateful Saturday when the punk show ran late and the bikers arrived early. As Scott recounts in the book, “It was like a scene from the wild west, as bikers were throwing punks over their heads and over the bar. The punks didn’t stand a chance.” (And he’s putting it mildly. It was Armageddon.)
Show by show, release by release and with band members coming and going, Scott recounts the story of AOD, from their groundbreaking debut 7-inch (“Let’s Barbecue With AOD,” which set the template for a new brand of suburban hardcore-punk) to their landmark first album, The Wacky Hi-Jinks of AOD (1984), to the debacle that ended their career, Ishtar (1990).
In the beginning, Scott and Richard were joined by guitarist Jim Foster and bassist Jack Steeples. Foster left after the first 7-inch and was replaced by Bruce Wingate on Wacky Hi-Jinks.
Steeples later left the band due to family and work obligations and Keith Hartel took over bass duties. After Hartel left, he was replaced in the last incarnation of the band by Wayne Garcia (who would later team with Wingate in the cleverly-named Bruce Wayne).
The band toured — a lot — decades before cellphones, GPS and a well-connected network of venues for alternative/punk/hardcore music existed. Each album sold a bit better than the last, but it was never easy. Cranky old vans and cancellations (or even great gigs for which they didn’t get paid) remained the norm; Scott shares memories of filthy punk houses and swank motels, goofy roadside attractions and an unending litany of pranks, making it all seem like more fun than you can imagine.
AOD’s time in the spotlight coincided with hardcore’s crossover with the metal scene, and labels eager to find the next Slayer or Metallica came calling. But as Scott recounts, AOD knew who they were and didn’t want to become a chart-topping metal band; they kept releasing their music on Buy Our Records and signed many friends to the label as well: F.O.D., Raging Slab, Mental Decay, Bedlam, Pussy Galore, The Honeymoon Killers and Hartel’s first band, Pleased Youth, among others.
By 1988, AOD had become bored with thrash and wanted to write more melodic songs that borrowed from their early heroes like Buzzcocks, Cheap Trick and The Undertones. The resulting LP, Crusing With Elvis in Bigfoot’s UFO, slowed down the tempos but amped the band’s comedic side, resulting in tracks like “Bulimic Food Fight,” “My Mother Can’t Drive,” the topical “There’s Something About Amy Carter” and the song whose title Scott adapted for his book, “If This Is Tuesday…..It Must Be Walla-Walla,” a paean to the dubious charms of DIY touring.
By the beginning of 1989, the group had reached its nadir; with inspiration waning and exhaustion setting in, Hartel left to pursue other projects, and Steeples stepped away, too, unable to tour because of work and family obligations. Ironically — actually, pretty much everything that happened to AOD was ironic — that’s when their big break arrived, and AOD signed to Restless/Enigma.
Restless might not have been a major label, but it was a big indie of the era, and dangled all sorts of perks and a handsome recording budget that seemed too good to pass up. Scott recounts with deadpan frankness how badly that turned out; even before its release, AOD knew it had a costly disaster on its hands, and so titled the album Ishtar after the infamous Hollywood flop starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman.
Scott continues the story into the present, including AOD’s successful and enjoyable reunions every five or years or so. This year, the band got together on Nov. 4 at Manhattan’s Bowery Electric, which gave Scott a chance to sell and sign books and allowed AOD to perform with both the original lineup of Scott, Richard, Steeples and Foster, as well as what Scott called “AOD Version 3.0,” with Hartel. (Wingate couldn’t attend due to a family emergency). They reprised the night at Dingbatz in Clifton on Nov. 5. Hopefully, sometime in the not-too-distant future, they’ll do it again.
Scott writes in a conversational, straightforward style, using short chapters to keep the pace lively as he recounts Adrenalin O.D.’s story. He devotes chapters to punk institutions such as CBGB and Connecticut’s Anthrax, and memorializes Trenton’s City Gardens (where AOD opened for the Ramones). Any fan of the American indie underground will marvel at the musicians Scott toured with, opened for or simply got to meet on the road. It’s a list far too long to detail, and if you don’t have a good grounding in that era of hardcore punk, you might not recognize many of the names.
But that’s OK, because the stories, the pranks, the catastrophes and the triumphs, the clubs they played and the people they met, provide consistently entertaining reading for even the most uninitiated fan. The book is also richly illustrated, filled with snapshots and photographs taken by professionals, friends, fans and Scott himself.
“If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Walla Walla: The Wacky History of Adrenalin O.D.” is available from diwulf.com.
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