The Punkiest Man in Punk

Lee Ving. Fear him

Lee Ving is old-school punk's punkiest front man. Less obviously political than the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra, more survival-minded than the Germs' Darby Cras, and just plain scarier than Black Flag's Henry Rollins and his neck, Ving leads Fear, arguably the most reviled band from LA's original punk scene.

Formed in 1978, the hardcore quartet mixed Captain Beefheartesque instrumentals done at mach speed; Howlin' Wolf-meets-howling-beer-soaked-lout-tossed-from-a-Dodger-game vocals; and lyrics that somehow managed to make sexism, misanthropy and homophobia funny—especially to macho boys given to tearing off their shirts to slam into one another in sweat- and smoke-filled sewage pits.

"Fear gave the finger to political correctness and scene socialism," states The Old Punks Web Zine. "Beer, fighting, sex, Budweiser, war, crowd-baiting, beer, living the low life, hate and more beer—these were Fear's agendas and inspirations."

Fear's 1982 debut The Record is a punk classic (whoever thought they'd live to hear those two words in the same sentence?), but the band was best captured on the soundtrack to punkumentarian Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization, which featured Ving's proclivity for dressing down assholes in the audience ("Next time, don't bite so hard when I come, okay? You only spit as good as you suck, shithead!"). When she became a big-time movie director, Spheeris tapped Ving for a role in 1987's forgettable Dudes, and he has appeared in 25 to 30 other flicks—including Clue, Flashdance and Streets of Fire—and about as many TV shows.

John Belushi so loved the band that he got them on Saturday Night Live's 1981 Halloween show. It's been touted as the best musical performance ever on SNL. Not exactly ingratiating themselves with their Big Apple hosts, Fear opened with "I Don't Care About You" ("Saw an old man have a heart attack in Manhattan/He died while we just stood there lookin' at him/Ain't he cute?"). Their hypercharged second set included "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones" ("New York's alright if you wanna get pushed in front of the subway/New York's alright if you wanna freeze to death/New York's alright if you wanna get mugged or murdered/New York's alright if you're a homosexual"). By the time Fear got cut off in the middle of "Let's Have a War" ("It can start in New Jersey"), slam dancers who had been invited onstage had torn the set apart, someone had yelled "Fuck you, New York!" over the airwaves, and Eddie Murphy was royally pissed.

That appearance apparently led some fearful club owners across the country to keep Fear off their bills, and the band eventually petered out. Ving moved to Austin, Texas, in 1987 and fronted a country outfit called Range War. The original Fear lineup re-formed briefly in 1993. A couple of years later, Ving recruited three new sidemen into Lee Ving's Army, a punk band that later changed its name back to Fear. Ving and Megadeth's Dave Mustaine also recorded a CD under the name MD 45.

In recent years, Fear's hard-driving sound has appealed to young skinheads, whose presence at shows (including one where they allegedly beat the shit out of an African-American band member), coupled with the cover illustration on Fear's 1985 album More Beer (a drawing of an eagle holding a wreath containing two F's positioned to resemble a swastika), have led some to conclude that Ving's extreme right-wing leanings have drifted really extreme right-wing.

Ving and yet another Fear incarnation play the Foothill in Long Beach on Friday. Calling up his booking agent to schedule a chat, I was instead immediately put on the line with Ving. Here's the impromptu interview that followed:

OCWeekly:So, I hear you're planning a new record. Lee Ving:Yeah, we're busy at it. You're actually recording songs now?

We're making what you'd call samples to send around to folks.

You're not on a label?

Well, let's see: our last label was Fear Records, so at least for the moment, it'll be on Fear Records. We're also talking to Fat Mike about putting it out on Fat Wreck Chords.

Is this the same lineup as Lee Ving's Army?

It's virtually the same. Let me just tell you who's in the band: Andrew Jaimez. He's the drummer. On bass is Mondo Lopez. . . .

That name sounds familiar. . . .

He's done some TV acting, but we won't hold that against him [laughs]. Filthy Rich Presley is our other guitar player, besides me. Rich is blood kin to Elvis.

No way.

Yeah, we're tapping into Graceland.

How'd you find him?

Sean Cruse recommended him. Sean was our guitar player before Filthy Rich, so it's been a smooth transition. Now Sean is recording with Dr. Dre.

Is the sound pretty much the same as before?

Beyond increasing the amount of music—the musicality improves each time we make a personnel change—we try to make something that entertains me. For that reason, [the sound is] somewhat more complex because that's what I'm into. But it's the same musical formula, so we're not going to lose anybody. "Similar" is the word we wordsmiths use.

Are you still acting?

Funny you should mention that. I'm talking to Penelope Spheeris at this very moment about projects. I'm also talking to William Morris [talent agency]. You may turn on the TV, and there might be Lee Ving staring right back at you.

I understand you moved back to LA from Austin to get more acting and music work.
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