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The Story of DMZ and the Blizzard of '78

DMZ at the Rat
DMZ vs.....
(Photo; Back cover of Fuzzbrains issue #13 (Worcester Fanzine) Deb Beaudry)
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...The Blizzard of '78

Rick in Ta dressing room Boston, MA - February 5, 1978

    The weather was mild for mid-winter. I turned the corner onto Batterymarch Street and greeted the morning sun. It warmed my face and made me squint. Is there anything sweeter than a sunny morning in Boston? Probably. But at that very moment, I seriously doubted it. The sidewalks were filled with people hurrying to their jobs. Women in calf length skirts wore sneakers and fluffy white ankle socks as was the style in 1978. Their high heeled shoes tucked into their purses, ready to be deployed upon arrival at the office. The aroma of bacon and coffee wafted from the Pick-A-Deli, the greasiest of the greasy spoon restaurants in the financial district. It sure smelled good.

    After a few years of living in the city I had developed a method of walking on the curbstone. It was my own little expressway, enabling me to scoot by the "normal" people clogging the sidewalk proper. Parking meters and streetlights on one side, parked cars and the street on the other, I moved quickly and confidently with my guitar case and drab olive shoulder pack. It was a good time in my life. I had a cute little apartment on Beacon Hill, a good lookin' girlfriend, and a major label recording contract. No great shakes to many of you I'm sure, but for a guy like me, who spent years toiling in the sweaty machine shops of Waltham, it was like heaven on earth.

    Under the Expressway I walked. Above me a thousand cars complained noisily. I remember how small I felt as I entered the cavernous South Station waiting area. I was on my way to New York to record my first album on Sire Records. SIRE RECORDS! The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Blondie, Madonna, and now DMZ! SA-WEET!

   I met up the guys in the band, JJ Rassler, Peter Greenberg, Paul Murphy and Jeff "Mono Man" Conolly. We rode the train to Penn Station, midtown Manhattan, where we hooked up with Bob, our driver and escort who had been provided by the record company. Bob looked like he had just hiked in from the Rocky Mountains: big knobby boots, denim overalls and a plaid flannel shirt. Today, this dude could walk down the street unnoticed, but in 1978, during what would be considered the tail end of the glitter rock era, he was quite a sight. We immediately renamed him "Sasquatch." He was a friendly sort and offered us pretty much anything we wanted in the way of refreshments, booze, weed, whatever. We piled into a large dark sedan and headed toward a motel in Syosset Long Island.

SIRE signatures

    It was a very exciting time for us. We were all hoping that this album would go national. With our great original music and driving hard rock sound, we all believed that we could do it. We also had a good rock and roll look. Long hair was still in fashion as well as tight clothing and jewelry. DMZ gigs were always well attended and we were attracting many fans worldwide. Our showcase gigs at the popular New York night club "CBGB's" were absolutely insane! Everything was happening so fast! Sire Records had provided us with all new equipment and decent advance money. I was 26 years old and for the first time in my life I could support myself with music. It seemed like the whole world had been laid at our feet.

    Today, the plan was a simple one. Get a good night's sleep at the motel, have a leisurely breakfast and 'round about mid-morning, drive a couple of miles down the Sunrise Highway to Kingdom Sound Studios where our producers Flo and Eddie would meet us and we would begin the process of making a big hit record. We could take as much time as we needed, drink beer, smoke weed, eat good food and after several hours or whatever, go back to the motel and hang out, have some dinner, maybe hit a night club or two, get a good night's sleep and head back to the studio. We would just relax, have fun, and after three or four days there would be many good cuts for the producers to mix into a mega-hit-laden platinum record that would sell millions of copies worldwide and we would all become super rich beyond our wildest dreams. We would buy large mansions and exotic sports cars and live happily ever after. Sounds good right? Sure it does. But ya know, that's not what happened.

B4snow.jpg - 64.53 K Syosset, NY February 6, 1978

    I think it was about nine o' clock in the morning. I had gotten out of bed and pulled back the curtains to survey my kingdom. Nothing but white! I remember thinking how strange this was. First of all, there was no mention of any upcoming snow storm. Jeez! It sure looked wicked stormy out there. I clearly remember rationalizing: maybe it's just a squall. I turned on the TV. Nothing but bad news! I pulled on my clothes and headed out to the lobby for some more information and maybe some coffee. Sasquatch was there. He looked anxious. The huge knobby boots he wore were suddenly looking very fashionable. "We gotta go to the studio right now," he said. That was pretty much all the information I needed. There was already a foot of snow on the ground.

    We got into the car and forged our way down an unplowed street, sliding and skidding along for what seemed like a couple of miles until we came to complete stop behind a bunch of cars at an intersection. It was a complete whiteout and there was just no traction in the deep wet snow. Sasquatch jumped out of the car and pulled an old steel shovel out of the trunk. Holding it high in the air, he proclaimed it his "instrument of authority" and proceeded to direct traffic. The dude was shouting orders, pushing and shoveling out stuck cars and basically just taking charge. He did pretty good too, actually clearing the way for us! He jumped back into the driver's seat and threw it into gear. We drove maybe a block or two and got stuck behind a dozen cars abandoned in the middle of the road. Nothing was moving. It had become pretty obvious we were going to have to leave the warm and comfortable interior of that big sedan.
    Sasquatch slammed it into park and said "It's just down the street, a large brick building on the left, we can make it." "Hey, Yukon Cornelius", I said. "What's this WE stuff? It was almost comical, like laughing at a funeral. I was the last one to bail out of the car. No hat, no gloves, low cut Converse sneakers and a jean jacket. The brutally cold air took my breath away. I had my heavy Dan Armstrong Bass in a large rectangular hard shell case. Trudging through the knee deep snow, I could barely maneuver the thing in this gale that was pelting me square in the face with ice and snow. In less than an instant, my long dark brown hair was encrusted. I didn't know who I was following. All I could see were two dark forms angled into the blizzard, one behind the other about a block or two ahead. A surreal, monochromatic scene.
    I kept moving forward, shivering. A large building loomed ahead on the left and the unknown dark figures in front darted left toward a small side door with a yellowish light above it. You couldn't tell if there was a driveway, parking lot, stairway or a lawn. I just pushed my way through a chest deep snow drift and through that door. Gawd! Holeeee shit. We hooted and swore as we stamped and brushed the snow off our selves. A grim look came over Sasquatch when he realized we all weren't accounted for. He went back out into the raging storm in search of singer Jeff and guitarist JJ They were the first ones out of the car and should have been the first to arrive. He came back a half hour later with the pair. Apparently they had walked right past the building!

    So there we were, we had no idea how long we were going to be stuck there. I had no change of clothes, no toothbrush, nothing. There was no shower, no beds or blankets, no beer, no cigarettes, no food except what was in the vending machine. No stores were open. There was nothing else to do except set up and start working. That first day wasn't so bad. We probably recorded forty percent of the songs. We were trying so hard to make the best of it.

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February 7, 1978

    After a night sleeping on the hard studio floor, candy bars and orange sodas for our only sustenance, no coffee, no smokes and no alcohol, I for one was not very amiable. I would have killed for a sandwich and a cigarette, and cut off my left arm for a beer, me the pushover of the group! Imagine how some of the "type A" personalities in the band reacted! We had arguments about all the arguing! There were physical beatings! We worked and worked while outside the storm raged on. What else could we do?
    Thank God the electricity didn't go off. We pooled our money and came up with 30 bucks. Sasquatch and JJ went out to find something for us to eat. They came back with five pounds of sliced boiled ham, no bread, no mustard, just the ham! There was no other food to be had anywhere. The storm had made all deliveries impossible. Needless to say it was a very stressful situation. At one point, we brought our southern California hippie producers to tears with our bickering and yelling. The last song we recorded was "Cinderella." After several takes of this very demanding song, drummer Paul Murphy's right wrist had swollen to almost twice the normal size. The guy was hurting big time. In the fadeout at the very end you can hear Murph slamming his drumsticks down very hard onto his kit as if to say "FUCK YOU!" The recording session was definitely over.

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Blizzard of 78 February 5 2011

    Those were the conditions in which we recorded our first album. Not surprisingly, it was a commercial failure. We were all hoping to get a chance to do another recording under better circumstances but it was not to be and we were eventually dropped from Sire. I hear a lot of people say the producers Flo and Eddie, are responsible. Others argue that the record label should have done more, given us a second album like they did "The Dead Boys" who were signed about the same time as DMZ. Sure, Flo and Eddie were inexperienced as producers, but their years in the music business and countless hit records as singers and songwriters in the popular 60's band "The Turtles" made them more than qualified, at least in my mind.
    Our record did achieve cult status though, and as I listen to it right now, I like it. I definitely like it better than The Dead Boys' "Young Loud and Snotty" album. But when I play other DMZ records that were produced by Craig Leon -- You're Gonna Miss Me," "Lift Up Your Hood," "DMZ Relics," recordings we made in just a few hours after a days work at the carwash, it just blows everything else away. I guess I agree with the majority. Sire Records did as much as could be expected for us. Hell! They even hired the world famous photographer Mick Rock to do the cover. The guy did David friggen' Bowie for crissake!

    Was my big chance for wealth and fame dashed by a freak snow storm or bad production? Probably a little of both, but money and fame are no guarantee of happiness. Nor is anything else for that matter. All you can do is take what life hands you and enjoy the journey. I have certainly done that and more!

   Before I started writing this story I Googled "The Blizzard of '78." I needed some background info; frankly, after 33 years, my memory of the eventful storm itself had deteriorated considerably. The haunting aerial photograph of Route 128, with all the buried cars bumper to bumper, gave me a chill. Can you imagine the absolute horror of being stuck there under four feet of snow! Watching your gas gauge drop lower and lower until the engine sputtered and quit. At that time it was the worst storm ever to hit the Northeast, dropping 54 inches of snow at an incredible rate of 4 inches per hour. There was thunder and lightning and winds over 80 mph. Coastal regions reported 14 foot tides. The biggest problem was that the storm hit mid-morning when people were driving to work and lasted through the day as they tried to get home after realizing the severity of the storm. With today's sophisticated computer weather forecast modeling, we know well in advance of any developing storms, but it was not so in 1978. The best that they could do was issue a "winter storm watch."

    That winter I watched this storm blow away the hopes of five young musicians. Aw what the hell! What would I do with a mansion anyway?


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