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Heather Leather

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"s/t" 7" (self-released)


 

Cast:
Stuart
Clint
Chris
Christy
Record Store Proprietor
K** S******** (aka, the discoverer)

Mise-en-scène:
Austin, Texas. Week of annual “Chaos in Tejas” punk festival.

Costume details:
Obscure band shirts. Studded belts. Speedos. Beer. Rental car.

 


 

In 2007, our favorite Australian, Clint, accompanied Christy and me to “Chaos in Tejas” in Austin, Texas, with one goal in mind: to come home toting a Heather Leather 45. Sure, there was the nude beach (Hippie Hollow), a few gigs (The Kids, among others), and friends from around the country to see, but Heather Leather was on our minds. We, you could say, came to destroy.

Two potential problems arose. One, Heather Leather hailed from San Antonio, which, experience had told me, was a couple hours’ drive from Austin and a couple millenia’s psychological distance. Two, on the sage counsel of Ryan Richardson, the chances of finding this rarity—supposedly only 100 pressed—were nil. We were undeterred.

On our second night in Austin, Chris, a mutual friend, confided that he had heard about a store on the outskirts of town with its bins full of a top-notch 80s punk collection. Another friend of ours, K** S********, had randomly gone to the store earlier in the day and skimmed off the cream but he left much behind, either rarities he already owned or obscurities he did not know. (In passing I should mention that this guy has an incredible knack for scoring great records—recently he found a Third World Chaos LP at Amoeba.) So Chris said he wanted to go to the store with us, but he wouldn’t tell us its name or address, fearing that if he did, we’d light out without him. Clint, Christy, and I had the rental car, and, knowing our particular psychopathologies, I’d say Chris exhibited some remarkable judgment. Throughout the night, he tantalized us with tidbits of what the discoverer had found: 013 LP is one I recall. We resolved to pick Chris up down the block from where he was staying as early as possible in order not to let on to his traveling companions, Sex Vid—also collectors, natch—where we were taking him. One other kink in the plans: the shop opened approximately an hour before we were supposed to be dockside at Lake Travis, at least a half-hour’s drive away, for a punk rock booze-cruise.

Armed with lattes like proper punx, we arrived at the shop before it opened. Like a dopesick fiend trying not to let on what ailed him, I pretended not to be scooting to the front of our group even as I half-ran toward the door of the shop. You’ll recognize this type of limping gait amongst eager record collectors worldwide: it looks like they’re about to shit their pants. In some cases, they probably are. Why I acted nonchalant when Clint and Chris were equally eager we’ll chalk up to my Catholic upbringing. Then again, I was in search of a 45 with a tune called “Child Molester” on the B-side, so perhaps we should (or cannot?) leave Catholicism out of this.

The spot was a high-end stereo store in a gentrifying district of town; it was in a converted warehouse-type space. Selling records was the owner’s nominal side gig. But gentrification or not, keep Austin weird or not, how many Marantz turntables can a dude in Austin sell? Regardless, we surely paid his rent for a couple months. The list of records we pulled out of the bins in the first few minutes is as notable for its high percentage of non-classics (Screaming Broccoli LP, anyone?) as for the records we were able to cross off our respective wantlists (ODs “Back at the Ranch” LP, of course). The thing was, we were only spying LPs. Then one of us had the good sense to ask the proprietor if he had any 45s. “In the bathroom,” came the reply. Duh.

Chris, Clint, and I consummated the otherwise latent homoeroticism of the whole affair by squeezing on top of each other—literally, folks—in the tiny bathroom of the shop. Christy took photos; in her words, “incredulous at y’all’s ridiculousness.” I recall placing a small stack of modestly desirable 45s I picked out on the toilet. It wasn’t until a day later that I realized I’d left them behind. The reason, as you’ve by now discerned, was the distraction that ensued when my dear pal Clint preposterously pulled the Heather Leather out of the bin. Our exultation, Christy mentioned later, was noted by the store owner—and probably anyone within about 100 yards of the shop: “Guess they found something good,” he said. Guess so. Of course, behind the closed bathroom door, the owner didn’t know exactly which 45 was the one that elicited hoots and howls. Naturally, considering that we had flown to Texas to find this record, any price he named would’ve been just fine in my book, but I highly doubt that this record was the one about which any sane person would assume us to have been so excited.

Here is where I have to shower unending love on dear Clint because he was the one who pulled it out, but I’m the one who took it home. Clint gave it to me. Thank you, Clint. The logic, of course, was that when we eventually begin our vida comunale in the woods, our separate collections will become unified anyway.

             

 

The scan doesn't register the faint
"Hecho En Mexico" stamp, but it's there

 

The condition of this copy of the Heather Leather 45 was not exactly what the typical anal-retentive collector would consider desirable. For me, though, it was perfect. Why wouldn’t I want my copy of this record to be thoroughly cerveza-stained and rumpled, with ringwear, two of three seams torn from end to end, and what looks like an armadillo bite taken out of the sleeve? Pretending Heather Leather’s 45 should be pristine is to miss the fundamentals of the record. San Antonio is well-nigh to a third-world city, but the Garza sisters one-upped themselves by pressing their self-released record in Mexico. Yes, friends, “Hecho en Mexico” appears in a faint purple stamp on one label. For any connoisseur of badly produced music, there is nary a finer seal of quality.



Looking wholesome, almost.






Not so much.


Musically, I would hazard a guess that only one of the Garzas was a musician in the proper sense of the term. The others were along for the ride. Whether it was Sylvia, Ruth (Sylvia’s twin sister), or Sandie, though, is subject to debate. Ruth’s singing is sublimely bizarre. And Sylvia’s riffs are, well, little more than rudimentary scales. It must’ve been Sandie, I tell myself, trying to ignore the drumming. Okay, maybe, in the Shaggs’ tradition, the musical ambition lay outside the band with a parent, but unlike the Shaggs, there’s no diffidence here. It’s all grit and energy. To contextualize, Heather Leather formed in 1980. The 45 came out in 1985. So we’ll assume they had improved greatly in the intervening years.

We Came to Destroy” is the obvious hit here. Check the lyrics:

 
Destroy! You better lock your doors tonight, Don’t think
about nothing, Don’t try to pull out something for me,
Or I’ll take you away, yeah, Destroy...We came to
destroy, we will blow you away, we are hotter than hell,
under a spell, Destroy...Don’t you know how it feels,
when you’re too young to be dead or alive, don’t burn
me, don't let me down, Destroy... We came to destroy.

I was seven years old when this record came out. But had I heard it then, I’m sure I would’ve been just as conscious as I am now of the unbridled sexual energy that courses through the songs. It is a devilish faux naivete so thick you want to reach out and paw it. And that’s ignoring the content of “Child Molester,” a song written from the perspective of the molested, addressing the molester with lines like, “C'mon and show me—wow!—what to do.” They do get around to say “Drop dead” to said perv, but by then the listener is already a thinking that the narrator is unsure how she feels about it. If I may be so bold, I’d say this song gives a rather nuanced view of teenage sexuality and exploitation, affirming the conflictual agency of the “victim” in the situation, not something one might expect from a band that otherwise seems as simple as they come. The song should’ve been on the OST to the film Towelhead, which, coincidentally, is set in Texas. And what’s that line “Don’t try to pull out something for me” in “We Came to Destroy” supposed to mean? For more on the band’s racy, lascivious energy, check the photos.

It is clear Heather Leather took great influence from Joan Jett, but, much as I love Joan, she never quite reached these heights. What makes Heather Leather so amazing is the unbridled enthusiasm that comes through so loud and clear. To me, so much metal, particularly the (relatively) radio-friendly type this band was aiming to emulate in 1985, lacks any sense of enthusiasm, urgency, or raw energy. Whereas most mid-80s wanna-be Rob Halfords spent their time trying to perfect the high notes (and squeeze into gold-lamé pants), Heather Leather’s music is not calculated. Yes, I suppose the odd way Ruth sang the line “We will blow you away” had to have been a conscious decision, meant to be a contrast with the high-pitched fourth line of the chorus, but c’mon, no “pro” would’ve allowed that note to slide by and end up pressed on vinyl.

Strangely enough, the other version of the song, which was released on the compilation “Metal Moo Cow” does not have the same dynamics and range. Despite the title of this mostly punk/hardcore compilation, Heather Leather was the only metal band on it, and yet this version of the song is much punkier than the 45 version. The guitar is crunchy and almost minimalist in its lack of reverb, and the bass, well, it sounds hecho en Mexico (almost)—and get a load of those sound effects. Ruth’s singing sounds much more youthful somehow. It’s a pearl of (likely unconscious) punk/metal hybridity.

I fear that uninitiated readers of Shit-Fi may misunderstand my own enthusiasm for this music, particularly because metal is not typically associated with the raw, the primitive, and the unpolished (even though some of the best shit-fi music ever falls loosely under metal’s rubric). I imagine Heather Leather received condescension, and surely misogyny, at the time, with the old saw about women being unable to play—which is the opposite of my motivation. Of the thousands of fame-hungry bands that were able to play, and their critics’ plaudits, I say, who remembers them now? No one. What we remember and what we venerate today are the bands that did not fear to tread outside the narrow constraints of quality no one asked you to impose upon us. That is what Heather Leather did. And that is why they stand out as having produced the best American shit-fi heavy metal 45 I have ever heard.

In case you’re wondering, we made it to the booze cruise on time. It being a punk boat trip, there was no way the vessel would depart at the appointed time anyway. Luckily for those among our cohort who had yet to try to sleep off the previous night’s hangover, the captain was kind enough to inform the punx that he didn’t care what they put up their nose. Puking over the side and locking oneself in the bathroom, however, were verboten.

Before returning downunder, Clint, like a true professional, had already tracked down another copy of the record via the internet, one in much nicer condition, complete with a few promo photos included.  

As a postscript, I must be honest and say that finding the Heather Leather 45 became the penultimate highlight of the weekend. The top highlight came the next night,  seeing Sex Vid play on the pedestrian bridge at 5am before we all had to catch flights home around 7am. I do not know if this performance was captured by any recording device, but if it was and it someday is released to the public, it will be the illest shit-fi record/cassette/VHS ever. Move over, Heather Leather. Til then, though, all hail the Garza sisters!