Few bands can effortlessly defy categorization, depiction, and definition.
Fewer still, set themselves apart from the desperate, the damned, and those who refuse to let go of the past.
After two tumultuous years of brutally grinding out set after furious set, Glitter Trash have provided Detroit with a startling new definition for the words 'brazenly intense live performance'. There hasn't been such a cohesive blend of raw power and originality, frankly, since Rob Tyner first instructed us Grande Ballroom motherfuckers to kick out the jams. Yes, this is bold praise that, no doubt, will be met with snickers from aging music critics across the state. Those same scholars we read monthly, who scoff at anything groundbreaking, and lay claim, loudly and proudly, to have already seen it all.
The Old Miami, for those of you who have never been there, is a stunning tribute to America's servicemen and women, hipsters, alcohol and good times, dropped right in the middle of a section of Detroit that closely resembles Zombieland. Like so many of the Motor City's hidden gems, including Glitter Trash lead vocalist Jenna Talia, this subtle nightspot shines bright amidst filth. It's unique history and décor, make the surrounding empty streets and vacant buildings seem even more desolate, but tonight it's the perfect classic bar/garage/living room to birth a revolution. Tonight, Glitter Trash is playing a Halloween themed support role to headliners Circus Boy, but word has gotten around and fans arrive early. This crowd is an odd mix of devotees, curious enthusiasts, fellow musicians, and those who just don't know what the hell to make of this whole affair. A good number of Detroit's underground rock and roll scenesters, such as stunning pin up model/musician Meredith Lorde are present.
The moment transsexual lead vocalist Jenna Talia steps through the front door, anticipation begins to build with a calm but steady momentum. She's dressed as a Roman Centurion, a cross between the Russell Crowe of 'Gladiator' and the Gerard Butler of '300', only prettier. Tall, decorated with tattoos and magic marker, she's built like a brick tree house with biceps that resemble a young Henry Rollins (around 1991, 'The End of Silence' period, before he got all nutty). I learn quickly, that she is painfully honest, articulate, clever, and beautiful. Beautiful in the same way one might describe getting punched in the face by Alexander Graham Bell as beautiful. Tonight she's loaded up with two bags filled with grocery store performance props designed specifically to instigate. Although warmly greeted by the Old Miami bartenders, passionate fans and hustling amateur photographers, it's also clear from moment one, Jenna is focusing. Cinder blocks may be involved, and she must emotionally, physically, and mentally prepare for the unforgiving rigors of punk rock showcasing.
Jenna: “People will see our band and consider us glam, but we're really quite the opposite. We're really rooted in that seventies punk scene such as the Dead Boys. A lot of people hear our guitars and think it sounds like Johnny Thunders or the New York Dolls, so that's kind of what were rooted in. But the influences go to the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. I'm what is deemed a transsexual. But I'm kind of a weird version of transsexual because I sit strangely in the middle on the fence. My brain tells me I'm a girl, my body says I'm a boy, and I was raised a boy, but I just kind of accepted myself for who I was. I've been this way since I was a little kid. Just most people are embarrassed by it, and I refuse to be embarrassed by what and who I am. So, I am, by definition, a transsexual, because I have breasts and take hormones. I won't get a complete surgery because that's NOT who I am. I like girls, I need that down there, you know what I mean ? So people are curious about that whole thing, but it's who I am. It's kind of complicated for most people to understand because it goes against society's norms, but of course, with punk rock, you really don't follow any rules. You just do it the way you want to do it. That's why I'm comfortable in this Detroit scene.”
Bassist Sinderella follows carrying her guitar case, subtly guarding her wardrobe with a black trench coat. When the equipment is unloaded onto the stage, she removes her coat and the white leather space sex kitty is revealed. She's sporting platform boots, mini skirt, and fuzzy kitty ears, exactly the way you fantasized when you were in junior high. And, again when you turned 32, sold out, and accepted that promotion with Aetna Insurance. This statuesque beauty is more than the emotional foundation of Glitter Trash. She's been a figure in Detroit music for twenty years, an artist, and an actress, most recently portraying a sexy vampire in the Detroit-based Sigourney Weaver/Alicia Silverstone vehicle 'VAMPS'.
Sinderella: “I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I eat organic food. I'm like the 'band mom', I'm the one that goes on autopilot and just keeps everybody together and deals with the promoters and makes sure everything goes well. I'm the business person. I'm a person who believes in destiny.”
Homeless, the guitarist arrives, and the reaction from the bar is instant. The women shamelessly adore his mature features, his Stray Cats style of hair and dress, and the honesty in his voice. He's one of the few who listens with a distinct sincerity (as well as one can, when going deaf in one ear), and the ladies find this an irresistible quality. He's acknowledged me with a friendly handshake, and after greeting some more of the enthusiastic diehards, we engaged in curious conversation at the bar.
Imagine you lived the rock and roll lifestyle, and entertained all the cliche excesses. The money, the drugs, the booze, the sex. OK, perhaps not the money. But, you sleepwalk through an imaginary musical existence most can only dream of.
Then imagine, out of nowhere, you're suddenly falling.
An unreliable handrail finally gives way while you're on the job and for two seconds you're hurdling towards the cement headfirst. Just long enough to realize this is going to really fucking hurt.
Homeless: “First, I am a terrible interview. I knew Jenna. I knew everybody. Danny (Allen), our drummer and I had played in a few Detroit bands together. And, we knew Sinderella for awhile. Eventually, it just seemed like the songs were there and everyone had the right attitude, the right approach, as in being from the heart. It felt right and felt that it would work, so I stopped working with the other bands. Jenna really knows her punk history, she's firm in that background. And the songs, were interesting and different. With the right tweaking, I thought 'there's something really special here.' When we started writing songs together, it just clicked. I can really put a twist on the songs, bring them to life and season them. She's a really cool person with a really good heart. There's so much bullshit in this industry. You hang around long enough, you learn how many people are full of shit. But there are a lot of cool people also.”
While you're mangled body is recovering, there's plenty of time to contemplate your life choices. Why you turned left instead of right off Woodward and hit that telephone pole. Why you left her waiting in that hotel room in Boise instead of just admitting you didn't love her anymore.
In that regard, Homeless is the same as any of us.
Complex with many facets that don't immediately reveal themselves. As is the case with many veterans I've interviewed, he could be guarded. And, at the same time, surprisingly open when discussing his life experiences. He's also a christian. A christian who needed the blood of Christ to wash away regrets, misdeeds, and bad choices. He needed redemption. Faith. But in our conversation, it slowly became apparent he's still haunted, still carrying some of the scars of choices made long ago.
Homeless: “I think that when you do something musically and people "get it" or respond to it in some way it's gratifying on some level. However, whether they respond to it positively or not should be irrelevant to the process.”
This isn't arena rock. This is bastard music.
And the hour arrives, where Glitter Trash must deliver on the unspoken promise all musicians make with the crowd. Jenna shoots silly string at unsuspecting patrons and ceremoniously hands out roses to some of the eager ladies in attendance. Homeless can barely move in the direction of his amplifiers, without being engaged in conversation by anxious fans, but manages to plug in and tune. Sinderella politely excuses herself, removes her black bass from it's case, and as quick as you can utter 'punk rock butterfly', transforms from socializing friend to professional musician. One look at her expression, as she tests the strings and you know this means something vital to her. Danny displays the fire that earned him his place behind the Pacific drum kit, loosening up with ruthless machine gun crescendos.
Cables are connected and amps are tested, as the crowd gathers, eager to feed off the energy from this throbbing, gyrating typhoon of rage and angst.
Then, in a split-second, it begins.
Like a single match dropped into a lake of gasoline, Jenna ignites. As the band launches into peak and valley anthem 'Adult Superstore', a whirlwind of self-deprecation, and self-destruction, the ghost of Darby Crash spreads like a virus throughout the room. This may be Detroit in October, 2010, but Glitter Trash invoke all the spirit and venom of New York City, suffocating in the summer of 1978. Their stage performance defies written description: each song is an event, a nuclear explosion of sound and vision. A chance to decimate your traditional concert expectations, as Jenna challenges the audience to interact.
On the attractively abrasive 'Beauty Queen' and 'Punk Love' her eyes search out the frightened, the amused, the disgusted, the horrified, and she approaches each one. Particularly the horrified. She's a sleek six foot, body building beauty and you may easily find yourself flat on your back, from the concussive force of Lady Bulldozer as she hurtles into the audience.
Jaws drop as she disappears and reappears, proudly displaying the evening's sacrifice: a gigantic ripe pumpkin. Vegetable rights activists howl in righteous indignation, as Jenna leaps from the stage with hurricane force and crushes the innocent gourd into the cement floor.
Homeless, when his mojo kicks in on the stellar 'Wreckage', utilizes his Les Paul to weave and wail an orchestration of supernova solos that kick in teeth. Sinderella, her face a blanket of total concentration, grips her bass as if she is all that's left to hold Hell itself from crumbling. Jenna may be the battery, but Sinderella is the frame, and Homeless is the compass, continuously pointing this musical bullet train in the proper direction. As with any group, at any performance, this train occasionally, veers off track. Whether it be bloody fingers trying to strum the correct bass chords on 'Wake Up', swallowing trashy glitter (literally), or the occasional missed note, the band is lightning quick to adapt.
“What do you want, Jenna ?!?!!” Danny yells out with complete sincerity from behind the drum kit, attempting to lead into the next song. Jenna responds to the inquiry with a large section of sacrificial pumpkin, missing Danny's face but viciously connecting with a nearby cymbal.
Barely missing a beat, the band turns the wheel back to forward and launches full blast into DRB favorite and show highlight 'I Need Sex'. They grit their teeth, swallow the seeds, and return the ship to, what can only be guessed, is the 'right' direction. This isn't reinterpretation of what punk was in the late seventies and early eighties. This is modern despair.
Glitter Trash have, uncompromisingly, forced Detroit punk in a new direction, forged their own path, and could give a fuck if you understand it, accept it, embrace it, or run screaming down Woodward towards the nearest Republican Party office.
A cinder block is threatened with extinction. A houseplant is also mercilessly sacrificed in the name of all that defies convention. Then it's entrails become prop, flung everywhere, but largely covering Jenna's centurion armor as she writhes and rolls on the floor like an orgiastic Wendy O. Williams. Matter of fact, it's quite possible that Jenna spent as much time horizontal, rolling in glitter, rose petals, and saliva, while performing 'Liberty', as she did vertically covering The Dead Boy's 'Sonic Reducer'.
It's a requirement that the bizarre antics are encouraged and sometimes ignored. Jenna is the show. Jenna is the draw. The curious are coming in the door now on word of mouth about the fiery self-destructive shows, and the front woman who wields a short sword straight out of the Hobbit.
As Jenna lands flat on her back for the seventeenth time, effectively destroying the last remaining antique chair left over from the '1984 Old Miami Wayne State Computer Lab Furniture Raid' she yells “Uh oh, bill the record company for that one!”
Yes, indeed, bill the record company for the chair, but who do I bill for the years of therapy ahead?
After the set, the stage is a curious mixture of broken chairs, seasoned musical equipment, strewn toilet paper, disconnected cables, bud light bottles draining on their sides, and of course, pumpkin corpse. Fans mill about, talking, drinking, cleaning seeds out of their hair, but most importantly, discussing what they have witnessed. How, in the midst of all the on and off stage fury, for a moment darkness truly seemed to bleed daylight.
In the same way, that our city has returned to the dark and depressing days of the late seventies, stagnating with unemployment, bitterness, blight, and apathy, Glitter Trash have resurrected the pillars of 70's punk ethos. We have blatantly ignored history in this industrial state, and now we are fulfilling our destiny to repeat it, economically and musically. However, this time the fans are listening with their minds and their ears. When Jenna is performing, beneath stage presence, beneath lyrics, beneath the pumpkin destruction, a much larger message is on display:
'I'm just like you, people. I'm frustrated, I'm depressed, and I'm angry. I'm wearing a leather skirt, and I'm going to rage. And fuck you, you're going to listen. Not because you're obligated, but because you identify with these emotions, with this dissatisfaction, with the depression, the (at times) overwhelming sadness of our existence, the inability to find decent work at a living wage, about the embarrassing collapse of our city, about the way Dad never wanted to spend any time with us, and how Mom got swallowed up by the bottle trying to cope with it all.
Staggering numbers of Detroit bands spend their weekends singing about pussy and beer. For them it's a gallows party, a few short hours where they aren't required to type marketing letters or sell Nautica neckties, and nothing more. Integrity and creativity are absent. Few have the insight or, if we are being completely truthful, the guts, to deviate from the road to excess. Fewer still, use their art as influence to improve our lot here in the rust belt.
This is where Glitter Trash have broken away from the pack . . .
for the DRB