UNDER-APPRECIATED ROCK BAND OF THE MONTH FOR JUNE 2013: FUR
I have been turning this post over and over in my head for several months and haven’t been able to come up with an appropriate UARB to go with it, so I am finally just going with one of my favorite old-school 1990’s punk rock bands (very d.i.y.), FUR. I can’t really explain why I love their CD so much, but I have played this album dozens of times, and it is one of those bands that I never get tired of.
Several years ago, I found the bandleader Holly Ramos’ website, where (in the pre-YouTube era) she had posted some songs from the Fur CD. At that time, she was primarily an actress; that’s understandable, since there are several photographs of her on/with the CD that hardly look like the same woman at all.
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The problem was, I never could come up with an appropriate band or artist where a discussion of “what might have been” would be a natural lead-in. Eventually, I decided to just go for it and pick out a UARB that had been on the to-do list long enough: Fur, a favorite punk rock band that was among the first bands that I thought of when I conceived of starting this monthly series some four years ago.
Why Fur? Good question; basically, I just pulled the band choice out of the air. As I have finally gotten to the point in the post where I am actually discussing the UARB, I now believe that Fur is a fine if left-field choice to end a discussion of the foundations of rock and roll: This trio illustrates well the idea that first germinated in the person of Buddy Holly and was later expanded in spades during the first-wave punk rock revolution of the late 1970’s – that rock and roll is for everybody who wants it badly enough.
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I can hear some of you now saying: “Stuff and nonsense! Ants among colossi! How can you DARE talk about a miserable little punk rock band in the same article as these giants?”
And there are others who are probably thinking by now: “I thought you were going to talk about a cool punk band. When are you EVER going to quit jabbering about all of these old farts?” For all I know, most of Fur’s fans would agree with this latter sentiment.
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But the bandmembers in Fur would not. Most of the music on the Fur CD is in 3rd or 4th gear; in fact, on “Sex Drive”, the song moves from 3rd gear to 4th gear when the tape speeds up in a way. However, on one track, “James Brown” – still another legend that I don’t have room for here – the band slows down to a respectful pace; Holly Ramos even counts down before starting to sing her lyrics:
“I met you once by chance like some lucky people do – I said I wasn’t wearing any underwear, & you smiled and you said, me too.” I assume that must be a true story of Holly Ramos’s meeting James Brown, because who could make up something like that? Ramos continues: “I know you wrote the book ’cause I see you got the scars – & all the other boys are trying hard but no one’s coming close to being how you are.”
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The frontwoman for Fur is Holly Ramos, a musician and actress from New York City. As revealed in a 2003 interview with Glitzine – a glam/punk/pop online fanzine that has evidently been around for 40 years – Ramos was into the New York punk scene at an early age: “In grade school I started to get interested in 1977 type punk, the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith. And in high school I got into hardcore (Black Flag/Bad Brains, etc). I am interviewed for the book American Hardcore, a book about the history of that music.” The book was written by Steven Blush and was the basis for an acclaimed 2006 documentary by the same name, American Hardcore that was directed by Paul Rachman.
Holly Ramos first got into the music scene when she met Jesse Malin in high school. They started a “party” (rave?) together in 1991 called GREENDOOR (where Ramos was the DJ) that persisted sporadically through the end of the 1990’s. “Green Door” is the name of a fun 1956 hit song by Jim Lowe about a mysterious nightclub where the singer could never gain admittance; I have a copy of the song on one of the Born Bad CD’s. However, the name was probably taken from one of the first high-profile pornographic movies (from 1972), Behind the Green Door – whose name was taken from the song – that starred then-unknown Marilyn Chambers (the famous “Ivory Snow” porn queen).
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Holly Ramos asked Jesse Malin to produce Fur’s music, and they worked together on their first single, “Sex Drive”. This single in its original form appears as the closing track on the band’s CD, Fur.
Jesse Malin was previously a member of Heart Attack, one of the early New York hardcore punk bands and reportedly one of the youngest at that time (some of the bandmembers were between 12 and 16 years old). The band was active from 1980 to 1984. Malin later became the lead singer for D Generation, a popular glam-punk band that was formed at about the same time as Fur.
Together with Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin co-founded a hardcore punk rock band in 2002 called The Finger. Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams) has been active in music since about 2000. I remember well a music video for his song “New York, New York” that was filmed just 4 days before September 11, 2001, showing the World Trade Center in the background.
Interestingly, The Finger took its name from a notorious hardcore punk rock band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Finger; Ryan Adams was a big fan of this group. Although I haven’t confirmed it, Finger might have grown out of an earlier Raleigh hardcore band called Colcor. Several songs by this band were included on a 1982 cassette-only compilation album called No Core that also features Corrosion of Conformity. I was delighted to find an LP of the music from this cassette (probably a bootleg) that was among the first albums that surfaced from the Katrina mud. Hardcore and thrash punk is not really my thing, but I do love that album.
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Fur was founded in about 1991 and featured Holly Ramos (guitar and vocals) and Danuta Gozdziewicz (bass and backing vocals). Evidently there were a succession of drummers but never more than three bandmembers; on the CD, the drummer is Michael McDermott. About the CD, Ramos continues from her 2003 interview: “We had a CD on Blackout Records and singles and some college radio attention. It was poppy Ramones style, melodic and aggressive, had a lot of great press and terrible distribution.”
As mentioned, “Sex Drive” is the single that was produced by Jesse Malin. The rest of the CD was produced by Phil Caivano, who has been a member of the stoner rock band Monster Magnet since about 2000.
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I have presented most of the photos from the album insert in this post. There is another on the CD itself, a negative photograph of Holly Ramos playfully positioning her crotch above the hole. Once I saw the pose, it seemed like an obvious thing for a woman to do on an album, but I have never seen it done before or since.
This photo is not at all pornographic – Holly Ramos is clearly clothed. However, it makes me think that the band name Fur is meant to be a sexual reference. The 2nd solo album by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s is called Fur (1988); she is pictured on the cover holding a rabbit (a fertility symbol from time immemorial), so Wiedlin probably intended the same, even though Jane Wiedlin is well known as an animal rights activist.
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Holly Ramos wrote all but one of the songs for the Fur CD. The exception is “X Offender”, a track from Blondie’s first album, Blondie that was written by Gary Valentine and Deborah Harry. This song was also released as Blondie’s first single in June 1976, on Private Stock Records. This single did not chart, though two others from their first album did.
The title of “X Offender” is a double entendre; the reference is not to an ordinary ex-offender but to a sex offender. Fur’s version of the song is rougher and has somewhat lower production values, though I prefer it to the original. “X Offender” fits like a glove into the Holly Ramos songs that make up the remainder of the album, so I suppose you could say that Fur sounds like a punkier Blondie in their original incarnation.
Fur played for years in New York and also toured this country and Europe before breaking up in about 1998.
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Lyrics are one of the real strengths of Fur, and that is pretty rare among punk rock bands. Full lyric sheets are provided in the CD insert, which is unusual as well. Like the quotation that I have already given for “James Brown”, Holly Ramos’s lyrics are mostly conversational in nature, like something you might hear at a nightclub. Some of my favorites are just short lines, like “You’re great, baby, like a [Andy] Warhol star, that’s what you are”; “I’m tired of all the other stars I’ve f--ked”; “I wear your clothes baby everywhere”; “they say you’re a prostitute, you’re feelin’ bad, but you’re looking cute”; “you’re not an ocelot, so don’t try being something you’re not”; and “you’re divine baby, what’s your sign?” Some are riffs on her own lyrics, my favorite being: “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth, baby, tell the ta-ru-u-u-uth”.
There are verses and choruses that are worthy of quoting in full (in apparent reference to Angels in America): “I got no angels looking over me, no superhero’s gonna save me, I’m so amused with how I am, just like a devil to the lamb”; and “I got a fuel injection kiss, I wanna ride your rocket ship, I wanna see your heavenly body, ride on a trip & visit planet Holly”.
“James Brown” is full of pull quotes: “Get down to the sound”; “you talk about America & your God & your race”; and “But you give it all when you sing & baby I just wanna, gotta, hafta let you know that you saved my life with your stunning attack”. Honestly, it was all I could do to not give the full lyrics for “James Brown”.
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One of the disadvantages of having a large record collection is that even favorite albums are inevitably pushed aside for years at a time. Until I started putting this post together, I had forgotten how great the Fur album really is. The fuzz-laden guitar work by Holly Ramos is first-rate, and she is backed by the rock-solid rhythm section of Danuta Gozdziewicz on bass and Michael McDermott on drums. As one reviewer noted, it is amazing what a big sound Fur creates with just three bandmembers.
There are other cool aspects of the CD; the opening track, “Beautiful Wreck” starts with Holly Ramos saying a single word – “sing” – and ends with car-crash sounds. Ramos begins “Ocelot” – a species of wild cat that is also known as the dwarf leopard – with a series of “meow’s”, probably as a counterpoint to the closing line: “Don’t try being something that you’re not.” The word is spelled “oceolot” twice on the CD insert; that might be an alternate spelling, but in any case, “oceolot” gets 122,000 hits on Google.
There is not a wasted note on the entire album, no dead sections where I am waiting for a favorite song to come on. It has never occurred to me even once in the 50 or more times that I have played this album to think, well, I’ll just skip over such-and-such song this time. I wish I had another 5 CD’s by this band.
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Holly Ramos moved on to acting for a while after Fur broke up. Ramos had a starring role in the 2001 indie film Margarita Happy Hour that also featured the Fur song “Sex Drive” in the soundtrack. Holly Ramos also wrote, produced and starred in a 2004 short film called The 100 Lovers of Jesus Reynolds.
Holly Ramos moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2003 and is still active in music. Ramos co-wrote “Cigarettes and Violets” that appears on Jesse Malin’s 2005 solo CD, The Fine Art of Self Destruction; she also contributed to several tracks that appear on others’ albums in the mid-2000’s.
The first solo album by Holly Ramos, Racehorse came out in 2006; her label has the remarkable name of Ford to City: Drop Dead Records. The name is taken from a famous headline that was published in the New York Daily News; the reference is to the refusal of the Federal Government – in the person of President Gerald Ford – to aid the New York City government when it came close to bankruptcy in 1975.
In her 4-out-of-5–star review for antiMusic.com, Gisèle Grignon says: “[Holly] Ramos’s voice, in all its glorious originality, cunningly textured lyrics, and irresistible magnetism is, (and if anyone out there is actually keeping track, I apologize for my by-now strangulation-worthy overuse of the following word) refreshing. It’s so unlike anything else out there today, that you will be forgiven for initially considering switching the channel or flipping through your musical options for something familiar, safe and Ovaltine comfy cozy.”
Holly Ramos has both a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/pages/Holly-Ramos/25110461394?fref=ts – and a website – www.hollyramos.com/ – though the website appears to still be under construction.
Fur bassist Danuta Gozdziewicz now goes by the name Danusia Roberts Trevino and is working as an actress. She also has a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/danusia.robertstrevino?fref=ts – and a website – www.danusiatrevino.com/members/DANUSIATREVINO/pts.html#/1// .
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