We've learned a lot about Luke Helder, the kid who turned a major in art at the University of Wisconsin-Stout into a Honda full of pipe bombs, over the past few weeks. But something not enough people are picking up on is that Luke Helder was kind of a poseur.
"Pipe-Bomb Suspect Played Punk Rock," shrieked an article by AP writer Brian Bakst on May 7, echoing a creaky chorus from CNN, Newsday and Court TV, extrapolating Helder's by now hilariously well-known Nirvana-philia—um, didja SEE the Kurt Cobain shirt they arrested him in?—into something a little more aesthetically threatening: "punk rock." And we'd like to set the terminology straight.
Sure, Nirvana was cool and all, especially if you were in middle school and it was the early '90s. But, Mr. Helder and members of the press, figuring out the recipe for pipe bombs is way closer to punk's nihilist lipservicing and do-it-yourself ideology than just figuring out the bass line to "Come As You Are." Listen: we have heard the MP3s, and no amount of high explosives could justify calling Helder's band Apathy "punk."
The first few bars of "Back and Black" sound like Nirvana covering the Wipers (which is what all the best Nirvana sounded like anyway). That's fine. But then Helder gets to sing—sorta like Ani DiFranco, oddly—and Kurt starts rolling in his lipstick-and-overwrought-poetry-covered grave. And the song "Conformity"? It sounds like rural Minnesotans covering Nirvana, which may be hard to listen to, but that alone doesn't make it punk rock. Apathy—as Mr. Helder would likely be the first to tell you, if he weren't incommunicado in federal prison or something—is total grunge.
Now, no one's saying punk isn't a natural soundtrack to terrorism: "If he listened to Bad Religion, we'd all be dead," noted someone on www.punk planet.com. But whatever pushed young Luke into action—we'd blame a lifetime in Wisconsin—it wasn't the music he was playing in his band, and it wasn't punk rock. But he has given a nation of ambitious young punk rockers a mailbox—heck, 18 mailboxes!—full of inspiration.
"Awesome—they had more than 1,600 listens [on their web page] yesterday after only having, like, one a day before that," gushed one young turk on punknews.org. "Maybe I should start killing people to get more people to listen to my band." (Chris Ziegler)
FUCK ART, LET'S ROCK Before Dee Dee Ramone blitzkrieg-bops over to Anaheim's Aryan-friendly Shack for his May 24 show—we'll assume no one told him about the Nazi schotzis that like to hang out there—he'll be giving a considerably more intimate performance at the Lab's Gallery 23 in Costa Mesa. And he won't be bringing his bass guitar. Instead, Dee Dee will preside over a modest exhibition of his paintings from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, showcasing an artistic side we never knew Mr. Chinese Rocks had in him.
"It was just fate, I guess," shrugs gallery proprietor Aaron Kraten. "His manager came into the gallery, and she was really nice. We were talking art, and she said he's doing a show in LA and this would also be a great spot for it."
No word on whether long lines of slavering, marker-wielding fans clutching copies of Rocket to Russia to their bosoms will be frowned upon; it is, after all, an art show, not an autograph session. But Ramones fans will get to see a wall's worth of Dee Dee's paintings—which seem split between faux-naif cartoon-y doodles and moody splatter-fest portraiture—and they will get to see the man himself. The paintings will be on display with Kraten's own work until Gallery 23 closes its doors for good at the end of the month.
"I'm gonna be sad, but I'm also glad to have my life back," Kraten says of this closing act. You know: if you're gonna go out, go out big. (Chris Ziegler)
Dee Dee Ramone appears at Gallery 23 at the Lab, 2930 Bristol Blvd., Costa Mesa; firstname.lastname@example.org. Fri., 6 p.m. Free. All ages.