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IT'S THE AMERICAN IN HER: PENELOPE HOUSTON & THE AVENGERS

Posted by Billyjam, June 6, 2007 10:08am | Post a Comment
penelope houston   
Exactly thirty years ago, June 1977, pioneering San Francisco punk band The Avengers, fronted by a very talented and very young songwriter & vocalist named Penelope Houston, emerged onto the then very fledgling US punk scene to play their first show. Over the next two years, this band, which featured Greg Ingraham (guitar), Jimmy Wilsey (bass), and Danny Furious (drums), would go on to blaze a trail of raw, adrenaline-fueled, politically charged punk rock legend, tirelessly playing a hundred-plus shows that included countless gigs at their hometown punk mecca, The Mabuhay Gardens, booked by the late, great SF punk visionary Dirk Dirkson, and sharing bills with the Dead Kennedys, X, the Go-Gos, and even the Sex Pistols for their final show at Winterland in January 1978. 

The Avengers are one of those bands of legend that most people didn't catch the first time around but learned of them after they had broken up - thanks mainly to their releases most of which surfaced after the band's demise.  In fact during their whirlwind two year existence the Avengers only released one three-song 7" record on Dangerhouse Records.  Their second record (the four-song 12" EP on White Noise) didn't drop until after they had disbanded and the record that most people know them by (the self-titled pink album) wasn't released until much later in 1983.  But none of this mattered to the legions of fans who later discovered and fell in love with such timeless Avengers songs as "I Believe In Me" "Fuck You" "White Nigger" "Corpus Christi" and "The American In Me" whose lyrics are reprinted below  along with a video clip of the Avengers performing the song circa '78 (scroll all the way down to end of thithe avengerss article). 

Due to "legal limbo" the Avengers' music was, for years and years, legally unavailable (fierce demand resulted in countless bootlegs of the Avengers' recordings) until recent years when Houston and the Avengers regained control and reissued their own music on two vital collections: Died For Your Sins, which came out on Lookout! Records in 1999 and the more recent The American In Me on DBK Works. Note that the song "We Are The One" (recorded at Wally Heider Studios, SF in June 1978) from The American In Me was included on the Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. V. Also note that due to demand, Houston herself personally sells burnt CDR copies of the Avengers' "pink album" on her website.
avengers        
After the Avengers broke up the never-idle Houston has never stopped recording and performing and flourishing as a solo artist, in a different musical direction, both here and abroad (the influential All Music Guide wrote that she "helped pioneer the melodic-yet-hard-hitting alternative rock... mined by such performers as Liz Phair and Aimee Mann.") with a rich catalog of releases (check her website for full list) including 1994's Karmal Apple (Normal Records) and 2004's The Pale Green Girl (DBKWorks). But the self-described "Punk Folkie Popstar" missed the music and days of old, so along with original guitarist Greg Ingraham plus bassist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades, she recently reformed the Avengers, or the scAvengers as they are sometimes billed.
    

Last year their select US and European dates won rave reviews, including the show from the above video's performance of "We Are The One" (at the Knust in Hamburg, Germany). And this week the Avengers will play three shows in Northern California (scroll down to see all details), including a Dirk Dirkson memorial show Friday. Additionally tonight (Weds, June 6th), Penelope will perform a "rare set" at the Makeout Room in San Francisco (3225 22nd St @ Mission) with the Bloody Bumpers (featuring Pat Johnson). Also on this amazing bill will be the Buddha Brothers with Gary Floyd (The Dicks/Sister Double Happiness) and Mike Therieau. Admission: $8. 21 + Showtime: 9:00PM.
  
The ever-busy, but always warm and down-to-earth Penelope Houston took time out this week to talk with AMOEBLOG about her illustrious career, the nation's current state, and her one wish for a better world.

AMOEBLOG: You have a hell of a week ahead of you: four shows in five days, three with the Avengers and the first night (tonight, Wednesday) with the Bloody Bumpers (featuring Pat Johnson). What can people expect for tonight's show?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: It's going to be a night of soulful singers. First, Mike Therieau with his amazing voice lifted straight out of a Small Faces session. I believe he'll be playing solo. The Buddha Brothers, with Gary Floyd (The Dicks, Sister Double Happiness) will be doing some bluesy originals including "Take It Like a Man" from his first solo album, which I did backing vocals on and will most likely by cajoled into singing on. Pat Johnson and I (Umm...Bloody Bumpers is not a real name!) will play with a full band. We'll be doing both new and old songs, some of mine, some of his and some cherry-picked covers.

AMOEBLOG: I see that Gary Floyd is on Wednesday's bill and also that Jello Biafra (among other SF punk pioneers) will be on Friday's Dirk Dirkson Memorial Show at the Great American Music Hall. How do individuals like you, Gary, and Jello manage to maintain both your integrity and your level of energy/passion for punk's philosophies?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: For me, it's in the music. Whenever I get up to perform with the Avengers, I feel lifted up to my original intent by the ferocious energy of the sound.

AMOEBLOG: How central or important was Dirk Dirkson to the development of the early SF punk scene?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: As an example of his significance to us... our first and last public shows were at the Mabuhay. In the two years we were originally together we played 111 times. 43 of those were at the Mab! It really was a huge resource for the local scene. Dirk put all kinds of interesting people on stage. Not just punk bands.

AMOEBLOG: You not too long ago reformed the Avengers (sometimes known as the scAvengers). How do you compare performing/recording as the Avengers with the solo (more folky) music career that you have built over the past couple of decades?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: There are many aspects of performing that apply to both situations. The intensity of it is one of my favorite sensations. One major difference is that so far the Avengers songbook is limited to what I wrote in 1977-79, while my "solo" work continues to grow.

AMOEBLOG: When you wrote/recorded those Avengers' songs, which are incredibly insightful and intelligent, you were very, very young. What was the impetus that drove you to create such powerfully moving music that has somehow managed to transcend time and administrations?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: Hmmm. Thanks. I don't know how to answer that. I was there and wrote what was on my mind.

AMOEBLOG: I noticed on the Avengers' MySpace page you guys stress that you do not want any "racist, sexist, fascist, or homophobic friends" or people "who voted for Bush" as online friends. In specific terms of sexism and homophobia, do you think America has advanced or regressed in the past three decades?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: Unfortunately, it seems like we're slowing to a halt or possibly reversing some progress that had been made. Individuals, I believe, are more progressive. We just need to get our political leaders to follow us a bit more.

AMOEBLOG: The Avengers were on the bill at Winterland, San Francisco Jan 14th 1978 -- that fateful last performance of the Sex Pistols. What was unusual about that show was that (unlike other punk concerts in SF up til then) it was in a huge auditorium (5,400 capacity) filled with mostly people who were experiencing a live punk rock show for the first time. And most of them were there specifically to see the Pistols. How was it for the Avengers? Did you think people really listened and 'got' what you guys were doing?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: On some levels they did. I don't know how much of the lyrics were understood, but certainly the feel of the music is universal. I was surprised by the crudeness of the crowd. As if people read somewhere the proper behavior at punk shows was just endless spitting and throwing things. I have never stood on a slimier stage in my life.

AMOEBLOG: As both a major label and independent label artist over the years you've gotten a lot of first hand insight into the music biz. Do you think the current digital age -- which is basically dismantling the music business model of old -- is the long overdue comeuppance for greedy music execs and putting the power into the hands of the people? Or is it just making it even harder for struggling artists to make a dollar?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: I think it will make it easier for artists and curious listeners to connect. But for the masses, perhaps not much difference. Kids still seem to lap up the same old shit.

AMOEBLOG: What do you see as the future of the music distribution? Will it be all iTunes and downloads and only "lifestyle" companies like Starbucks signing artists to press up CDs?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: Majors will keep pumping out the pop stars whether it's via the Internet or CDs. There are a lot more choices for self distribution for independent artists now.

AMOEBLOG: If, let's pretend, you were granted one magic wish right now and could change anything about the world, what would that be?
PENELOPE HOUSTON: Women run the world!
 
   
 

 The Avengers' Three NorCal Shows This Week:

Friday, June 8 at the Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell St, SF) 8PM. $25. "The Dirk Dirkson Memorial Show" featuring the Avengers, Jello Biafra (M.C.), SF Mutant All Stars, Contractions, White Trash Debutantes, No Alternative (with Chip Kinman/ Dils)
  
Saturday, June 9
at The Blank Club (44 South Almaden Ave, San Jose) 10PM. $10
The Avengers, The Demonics, and Vacant Churches.

Sunday, June 10
at Old Ironsides (1901 Tenth St, Sacramento) 9PM $10. The Avengers and openers TBA


THE AMERICAN IN ME

   Lyrics by Penelope Houston.  
   Music by P. Houston, G. Ingraham, D. O'Brien, J. Wilsey

 It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood
 running out of the bullethole in his head.
 It's the American in me that makes me watch TV
 see on the news, listen what the man said.  He said

"Ask not what you can do for your country
 what's your country been doing to you
 Ask not what you can do for your country
 what's your country been doing to your mind?"

It's the American in me says it an honor to die
 in a war that's just a politician's lie
 It's the American in me that makes me watch TV
 see how they burn the SLA
 They say

"Ask not what you can do for your country
 what's your country been doing to you
 Ask not what you can do for your country
 what's your country been doing to your mind?"

In the USA!
 In the USA!
 In the USA!

It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood
 running out of the bullethole in his head.
 It's the American in me that never wonders why
 Kennedy was murdered by the FBI (said)

Relevant Tags

Sexism (1), Sf Punk (1), Avengers (2), Dicks (1), Dirk Dirkson (1), Homophobia (2), Bush (4)