The 1990s feel like a century ago. Technically, it was the decade that closed out the 20th century. When you look back, it was the end of a frighteningly significant era. A centennial mishmash with 100 years of war, unbridled greed, and mass technological insanity run amok. This doesn’t seem so long ago. Precisely if you lived the last half of it and are lucky enough to be alive inside today’s dystopian American undreamed. For me, it was roughly the beginning of the end. Taking that daring stupid high dive swan song into irrelevance. The declining descendants of the most unfortunate young kamikaze disappearing acts. Already in my early-40s at the dawn of the 21st century, considered old and invisible by the Gen X, party like it’s 1999, Y2K, and never trust anyone high-tech kids.
Yet, through the 1990s, I thrived, lived, worked, and played in an unknown Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, at 409 Kent Ave. at The Right Bank. Mostly I played at playing it. A poet misfit, malcontent dissident, or semi-poor excuse for an unreal modern realist. What does any of this personal history have to do with Malcolm Tent? I first witnessed the punk rock antihero Malcolm Tent at an open mic night with Wild Bill Teller officiating as MC.
It was jumping in those early days at the Right Bank. The unexpected could happen, and it usually did in fast-forward double time. There was a carefree, bum-rush attitude to do everything all at once. Faster, harder, and wilder all the time. It was either too much or not enough. Lack of exposure or too much exposure. People like Kay, the barmaid who made free chili on Tuesday nights; Tom Cat, the reluctant bartender; and Liza Jane's Nazi paintings. Roberta, the Pepsi/Vodka chef, Kerry, the retired NYC fireman and Right Bank owner, Hennie, Marty, Philly, and half the regulars, among others who were around at that time, including the Right Bank itself, are long gone. By dumb luck, I survived, along with others, Malcolm included.
Malcolm Tent’s persona seems oddly out of place, like any good punker in polite social circles. But that’s the way a punk should be. Shake things up. A punk rocking Weird Al Yankovic in black leather on steroids, nitro, and psychedelics, with a fluorescent orange accordion, sporting an Eraserhead hairdo, screaming mad mixed metaphors and lyrical non-sequiturs. You haven’t heard anything until you hear his cover of the Sex Pistols' “God Save the Queen.” It was right on, if you could remember. He pumped his bellowing accordion with glee. A bit later, we played regular gigs at the Right Bank with his band, Thai Raid, who also shared members Gregorio and Jimbo with our group, the T.T. Tucker Bum Rush Band. But that’s another can of punks. Malcolm told me his musical career is a series of missed opportunities, and if it weren’t for missing them, he’d have zero opportunities or no opportunities at all.
That’s the standard buzz for the music biz beast. Warm beer, cold pizza, and no cash. The groupies ran off with the roadies. And one night, in a string of gigs opening for the Ramones, it happened. Thai Raid got to stay in the Ramones discarded hotel room with the groupies who were abandoned by the roadies. On the bright side, he’s still playing gigs around his old stomping grounds. Margate, Atlantic City, and most recently offshore in Absecon, NJ, among other locales. Tent’s sound isn’t for the squeamish. If you don’t dig the accordion, look out! He attacks the instrument like a punk possessed. His songs, like his name, and his Thai Raid band, are filled with double meanings. Homonyms, polysemy, double, triple, and even quadruple entendres are his forte.
I should mention another person who uses the moniker Malcolm Tent, out of Danbury, Connecticut. Not a doppelgänger, but it's weird because, although much younger, he’s a punk rock aficionado too. There’s also a Malcolm Tent on LinkedIn who’s a farmer in Illinois. An example of Malcolm’s word disassociation is that, at the first Thai Raid rehearsal at Gregorio’s place near Broadway and Kent on Dunham Place, the guitarist, Ray Brazen, arrived just as Gregorio was apologizing for the disarray of his apartment. Malcolm pointed to Ray, saying, “No, dis a Ray.” Some recordings by Tent include “Chillin’ of the Revolution,” with titles like “Tardy Tree & a Turd,” “Grr Raj,” “Kerry OK” and “Ra Ra Rock & Roll.”
Other bands who played during the Right Bank years include the Billy Syndrome, Nice Undies, Magh, Lex Gray & the Urban Pioneers, Thundering Lizards, Mitchell Vaillant, Jennifer Blowdryer, Billy Campion aka Vic Thrill, Edith Frost, and Ramblin' Roy Derien. There was a Little Baltimore contingent of bands like Mike Bell, who was in too many groups to remember them all: Mongoloidian Glow, Motor Morons, I could go on. The point is that Tent tells me that he felt the spirit of freedom three times in his life. The first was in the late-1960s in Haight Ashbury, SF. The second was the 1970s afterbirth of punk rock slow roll and the 90s playing at the Right Bank. I can’t list every band that went through those bar doors, no matter how obscure, surreal or semi-unknown we may be. It was a great time to be alive and free. Here’s to Malcolm Tent and a well-deserved tribute.