tom smith | make green bay weird | nov. 2019
I hope you all enjoy this installment of Make Green Bay Weird because I sure did not enjoy writing it. In all the years I have been writing for my editor here at Frankly Green Bay, this has been my most dreaded assignment. I have put off writing this column to the absolute bitter end. My back is against the wall. Not even sure if this will be handed in time to make the November issue. Not that I usually don't hand my column in the nick of time anyways, but this month my struggle to start writing this has been quite the formidable opponent. Part of me wants to raise a white flag and delay this to next month, but perhaps this will never be easy, so I soldier on.
I knew I had to write this article since the afternoon of Oct. 2 when Paul #1 from Boris the Sprinkler messaged me that Kim Shattuck of the Muffs had passed away. I don't often don't cry at work but when I received this shocking and sad news I was alone at The Exclusive Co. and the wave of emotion brought the waterworks. I had known for a while that Kim had a medical issue, but Kim was very private about this and only a few months ago I started to suspect that she had what took her way too early from this plane of existence. ALS was the horrible disease that Kim was afflicted with.
A few years back I saw Green Bay resident and super swell guy Joel Van Stechelman suffer the same fate and I must have repressed all the horrible details that go with having ALS or the eternal optimist in me wanted to think this story, in the case of Kim, would have a different ending. The harsh realities of life can really sucker punch you in the face. I ask you all reading this to please, whenever you get a chance, donate to help find a cure for ALS.
I also had known for a while that this month I would be reviewing the new Muffs “No Holiday" that was released on Oct. 18. I couldn't start writing the review in advance of Oct. 18 because that was the day I purchased it on vinyl and compact disc at The Exclusive Co. In my mind I had been writing what I was going to say about Kim and her impact on the history of rock 'n' roll for a few weeks, but even that has been tough. On Oct. 16, I flew to the city of Cleveland to see Mudhoney, Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds and Chargers Street Gang. This was the first time I have flown since I started to use iTunes to put music on my iPhone. In June I finally broke down and got a smartphone for the very first time. So I haven't flown with access to music since I brought my portable cassette player to go to a wedding in Moscow, Idaho, a number of years back. As we were taking off from Green Bay on the way to my connecting flight to Cleveland in Minneapolis, I started listening to the Muffs' second album “Blonder and Blonder" (which is one of my 10 favorite albums of all time). I started trying to get an outline in my head about how I was going to properly relate to you all how important Kim's band the Muffs are in the whole grand scheme of rock 'n' roll. This did not go well because by the time we were landing in Minneapolis tears were streaming down my cheek. I don't think the business dude seated to me noticed (his boring looking print outs were keeping him busy and I had the window seat) not that I cared; I would have loved to make him regret asking what was wrong. My layover was short but just long enough for me to get to my gate and pull myself together. I temporally had this fear they weren't going to let me board my flight to Cleveland but that soon passed and I just chalked that up to paranoia. So needless to say, this has been a tough subject to write about.
Where do I start?
I guess the beginning.
Working here at The Exclusive Co. since 1988 and being a buyer since 1989, I made sure when the Muffs started releasing 7-inch singles, we always had plenty in stock. You are damn right I pushed them on friends and customers alike (not that I had to twist any arms to get people to buy their records). Green Bay was always a hotbed for Muffs fans and I count myself one of their biggest fans in Green Bay and for that matter the universe. Yes, I instantly fell in love with this band. They had everything I was looking for: great songs driven by loud guitar, one of the greatest rock 'n' roll singers ever (for the record, Kim had the greatest scream in rock 'n' roll — period. Hands down. If you want to fight about this hunt me down at a great rock 'n' roll show in town. Spoiler alert: you will lose this argument) and a rhythm section the backed all this up perfectly. When Roy McDonald was added on drums the rhythm section became my generation's version of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. The Muffs had a number of singles out when I first got to see them live in Milwaukee opening for the Goo Goo Dolls. This was a free show at UWM and a few months before the Muffs debut full-length would be released. While standing in line for this show there was this super annoying twerp in a stovepipe top hat walking around with an acoustic guitar playing over and over again “Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes. Now don't get me wrong, the Violent Femmes are one of Wisconsin's greatest natural musical resources and their song “American Music" is one of my favorite songs ever, but rest assured, I never want to hear that song ever again especially by this hipster twerp. My immediate reaction was to “ask" this twerp to stop this audio crime instantly but the Rev. Norb, in his wise Vulcan-like logic and calmness, convinced me not to “ask" him to stop. The Muffs played and I thought I loved them before I saw them live, but after seeing them live my worship for them was elevated to a new and much higher level. I felt like Jon Landau discovering Bruce Springsteen because "I saw rock and roll future and its name was the Muffs." Yes, I was sold lock, stock and barrel on the Muffs. That day in Milwaukee the Muffs blew the Goo Goo Dolls off the stage — which at the time was an accomplishment because the Goo Goo Dolls were (at that time) a really excellent band. Their first three records are great (especially the “Jed" album). Towards the end of The Muffs set, unbelievably, that twerp in the top hat somehow made his way onto the stage. At first the Muffs looked on this dude with amusement and then realized what a clown he was and Kim “asked" him to leave the stage in no uncertain terms. The Rev. Norb and I looked at each other with this look that said Kim is the greatest frontperson in rock 'n' roll. At this point, I have to say my deepest condolences to all of Kim's family, her husband, her bandmates present and past, friends and her legion of fans. Next month I actually review the new Muffs “No holiday" and clearly explain why her legacy (because of the Muffs) will never be forgotten. Live, long, and love the music of the Muffs.
Since 1984 when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.