tom smith | make green bay weird | sept. 2018
Saturday, August 18th Rev. Norb & the Onions performed behind the Exclusive Company with the Hussy, Last Sons of Krypton, Mary Lemanski, Body Futures, and newcomers to the Green Bay scene, Sh!thole. This is not an unusual occurrence in itself, because Rev. Norb & the Onions have graced the concrete stage behind the Exclusive Company a number of times. This performance had historical significance because this was the last waltz for Rev. Norb & the Onions, their farewell show because they're closing up shop, going their separate ways, ceasing to exist, doing the opposite of getting the band back together. Yes, they broke up late that Saturday afternoon behind the Exclusive Company. If any other bands want to play their farewell gig at the Exclusive Company, please do, we would love to become the new Riverside Ballroom of Green Bay. Remember, these artists played one of their last gigs at Riverside Ballroom: Buddy Holly, Black Flag and Husker Du. To find out why Rev. Norb & the Onions, who had been rocking the stages of Green Bay for (I believe) six years while releasing one full length, one split album and a fistful of seven inch singles, was calling it a day, I sat down to interview the Rev. Norb.
What was the reason or event that caused Rev. Norb & the Onions to cease as a band?
Well, when you start a band, your goal is — or should be — world domination, kinda like Pinky & the Brain. This, however, is not an infinitely sustainable goal, so eventually you lose momentum and just kinda putter to a stop. So that's basically what happened, we puttered to a stop. We hadn't written any new songs in over a year, we were becoming increasingly less interested in practicing, and, when we did practice, it was just to run through the same set that we'd been playing for a million years. The only particularly interesting thing we did over the course of the last year or two was to learn a set of DAMNED songs for Halloween (I found out I make a decent Dave Vanian, who knew?). I just figured it was time to go, before we deteriorated into a punchline. I also figure, cripes, I'm 53, I gotta be nearing the end of my window of effectiveness as a frontman for a punk rock band, you'd think. I don't wanna be like Little Richard and have some dude have to help me up on my piano and help me back off again. Furthermore, bands get kinda boring after five years or so. How many times do people really need to see us play “Tomorrow Or Tomorrow Night" into “Eating Quisp From Someone Else's Bowl" into “Karmic Vengeance Rock and Roll" into “Rocket 707077" anyway? It was just time for something different.
What are some of your fondest memories that you have from performing with Rev. Norb & the Onions?
Number one has gotta be that time I brought the porno mags to the Crunchy Frog. When I moved out of the legendary Broadway pad in 1998, I found this huge box of porno mags under the kitchen counter. It wasn't mine and it wasn't particularly appealing stuff, but I figured, well, some day I'll find a use for it, so I took it with me when I moved. Almost twenty years later, I found it in the back of a closet, and figured, by golly, the time is now! So, at the beginning of our set, I dumped this huge box of skin mags onto the stage. We were playing on this mound of pornography. Then I started kicking and tossing the magazines at the crowd, and pretty soon it was basically a porn-fight, stuff flying everywhere. People started pulling the pages out of the magazines, one by one, and tossing them around, and, by the end of the night, the entire dance floor was literally shin-deep in porn. That whole side of the club was just buried in smut, it was amazing! It wasn't even good porn, it was kinda gross, like German foot fetish stuff or whatever. It was one of the most ridiculous spectacles in which I've ever taken part. I know the Crunchy Frog hasn't been around for a while, but I still have to thank Celena Hurlbut for putting up with our nonsense that night!
What are some of the bands (national and local) that Rev. Norb & the Onions shared stages with that you enjoyed the most?
Everybody we played with was rad, but I'll say the Last Sons of Krypton, because Brad and my next-door neighbor Joe are in that band so I'm required to plug them. Actually, I'll say the Toxenes from Minneapolis, because, OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT A COINCIDENCE, they happen to be playing at the Lyric Room on Thursday, September 6th! You should make note of this, Tom, in case you're not doing anything that night.
If Rev. Norb & the Onions would be only remembered for one thing what do you think that would be or what would you hope that would be?
I want to be remembered as the band who had the singer who was always swinging this huge wooden rod with a plastic onion on top of it around on stage. I figure having a plastic onion on a stick on stage will help them remember our name in the ages to follow.
I heard a rumor that you will be performing in a band for the All Messed Up 920 show at the Lyric Room Saturday Sept. 15 is that true?
It is indeed! The drawing for the show — where musicians put their name into a hat (FULL DISCLOSURE: I never saw a hat) and random bands are created by pulling names from this hatful of rock — was immediately after the final Onions set. Like, literally a minute later. So I went from being in the Onions to not being in a band at all to being in a randomly-selected band in the course of about sixty seconds. I am in a band with Preston of Beach Patrol fame and two other gentlemen whose reputations I am certain to tarnish. Also, I think I am going to buy some striped bell-bottoms. It will make people wonder what I'm up to.
What other future musical endeavors may you perhaps be involved with?
Well, Boris The Sprinkler have some loose plans to do this/that/the other thing next year, and said plans shall be divulged at a time and place of our choosing. Other than that, I think I'm going to buy a bass and get those bell-bottoms and see where that gets me in life. I've been really getting into European 45s from the late '60s and early '70s lately — lots of Equals, Troggs, Sweet, Slade, stuff like that. The other night after work I listened to four Mungo Jerry 45s in a row. That's three more Mungo Jerry 45s than a right-thinking person even knows exist! Maybe some of that damage will seep into the next project. I don't think there's any law that requires my participation in musical endeavors to be limited to singing in a punk band. That said, that's the only thing I'm any good at. Eh, talent is overrated anyway.
What order do you think the NFC North will finish in the 2018 NFL season?
I think the Packers will rebound and finish on top, paving the way for one of those exciting first-round playoff exits that define the team's legacy. The Vikings will stumble a bit and finish second, just because they play in a stadium that looks like the thing that the Jawas used to haul their scavenged droids. The Bears will be on the upswing and finish third, keeping whoever the hell is their coach this month off of the hot seat, and the Lions will be removed from the division midway through the year and assigned to a remedial two-team division with the only other team that's been around since Super Bowl I without actually ever getting to a Super Bowl, the Cleveland Browns. The Lions' spot will be filled by Tampa Bay, who will finish fourth for old times' sake.
Who is your favorite Green Bay Packer of all time?
Probably John Brockington, because he was the first guy I remember being any good. I would also accept Chester Marcol as an answer.
Who is your least favorite AFC team?
The Patriots, because screw those guys. Maybe the Broncos, same reason. Actually, the Patriots are worse, because Brady doesn't hate Trump, which makes him the enemy of all Americans.
Screw you and the Ted sequel ya rode in on, jerk!
And now a word from Timebomb Tom:
I personally hope the Rev. Norb, eventually, after a “no-band" sabbatical, forms another full-time unit. Norb has always been the Rock of Gibraltar of Green Bay's Punk/Underground rock scene since it crawled out of the primordial ooze. Take my word as someone who is in his fourth decade of watching Norb perform in bands: The Green Bay scene has always been absolutely significantly better when Norb is in a band. If you examine the best eras of the local Punk/Underground scene there is a direct correlation of how great that era was and Norb having a band. What would Northside be without Suburban Mutilation? Lefty's was always a lot more fun when Depo Provera was on the stage; I still have many fond memories of when Depo Provera opened for Die Kreuzen at Lefty's. The Concert Café unequivocally would not have been able to pull off the legendary shows that it did without Boris the Sprinkler on the bill. The flyers I had for those shows also would have been a lot less cool if I hadn't had Norb making them for me. Good times were also had with Rev. Norb & the Onions on bills at the Crunchy Frog, Phatheadz, the Eagles Club, the Exclusive Company on Record Store Day in 2014, Gasoline, Frets and Friends and the Lyric Room.
Live long and all hail Earth's Greatest Rocker, the Rev. Norb.
P.S. The Cleveland Browns will win the AFC North and the Green Bay Packers will defeat the Houston Texans in Super Bowl 53.
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.