If you’ve ever wondered why so many good musical acts and artists were coming out of Cleveland, Ohio and its suburbs during the 80’s and effected a lasting impact on the American cultural landscape (Jim Jarmusch, Pere Ubu, The Cramps), it could be that they were all influenced by one television personality named Ghoulardi.
Ghoulardi was a TV Show host, mostly of B-Movies, which he would introduce and ‘host’ in the manner of (I imagine) Hitchcock’s TV show, or Tales From The Crypt. This happened back when local TV stations would still have mostly local programming, so that the local culture of a place would figure prominently on screen. Whether through inside jokes, personalities, folk tales, the immigrant communities making up the population in these cities would readily identify with non-mainstream eccentric characters. Back when there was still something of the personal, and ‘strange’ on television. There was Ghoulardi. And he was blowing up firecrackers in the studio, causing fires, and laughing manically through it all.
This bit of history is clearly outlined with more grace and eloquence than I ever could muster, by David Thomas, frontman for Pere Ubu (named after the surrealist Jarry play), in “Ghoulardi: Lessons in Mayhem”. And what better way to describe precisely this feeling, and essence, that has been obsessing me for the past few years now and which I have been craving incessantly through my indulgence in researching garage/punk/rock n roll acts and music spanning the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in American music. What today some writers call “punk energy” or “anarchistic tendencies” is also called mayhem or can also be described as pure ecstatic rush of energy like the one found in the beautiful cacaphony of drumbeats and the buzz of fuzzy surf riffs. If that doesn’t slither enough…then at least read the essay to grasp the ephemeral atmosphere that might have been conjured in those times, then think of the Jarmusch films such as ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Down By Law’ and maybe some of it has its source right here. In Ghoulardi…