Wednesday, February 25, 2009

UPCHUCK: GONE BUT NOT FORGIVEN
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BY THE TIME CHARLES 'UPCHUCK' GERRA TURNED 17 he’d been locked up in juvenile detention for being gay, run away to Seattle, was arrested for offering an off-duty cop a blow-job in exchange for bus fare home and co-founded one or Seattle’s earliest punk bands. By the time he died in 1990 he’d left an indelible mark on everyone who’d ever met him or seen him perform. Onlookers were pulled in whether he was leaping around the stage like a psychotic elf or floating effortlessly in ecclesiastic robes and bishop’s miter. There were performances wearing a wig made of live squid. The poop head. The night he lip-synched on top of a pool table to Wayne County’s “Fuck Off” in his underwear, swinging the largest dildo mankind has ever seen. In Upchuck’s world Kabuki demons performed alongside malevolent gremlins and 18th Century dandies…and not just onstage
From the moment Upchuck woke up every morning there was only one goal to work toward? ‘How am I going to be a star today?’ Life was performance whether it was on the stage of local clubs or riding a bus to the supermarket. Watching his single-mindedness thrilled everyone who stood by and watched it; especially since the people closest to him were living in a slightly more modest version of the same world.
The theatrics of shock have become cheap gimmicks in today’s world of pop music. They no longer carry much more than marketing value. Outrage has become homogenized and commercialized to the point of being an embarrassing and cliché. Even in the 1970’s and 1980’s Upchuck’s antics wouldn’t have meant much if it weren’t for the a very important thing: He had talent and vision. It was almost enough to just hover across the stage, or stalk the audience. But the make-up and outrageous stage personae paled compared to the voice. Big and rich, just like Upchuck liked his men. It lay somewhere between a bass and a tenor, but he wasn’t afraid to teeter on the edge. It didn’t matter if he hit the mark or not. Most of the time he did. There was also the chance of a yelp, a howl or a caterwaul that betrayed his love of the work of Yoko Ono. Maybe a Toya Wilcox riff …or a Nina Hagen growl; all gutsy performers that Chuck admired, but never sought to imitate. He didn’t need to. He was his own creation and that was all he needed.
Upchuck created his own drag that had nothing to do with the bitchy caricatures most people associate with men who dress up. His drag was genderless, but at the same time sexual. It had elements of punk, but rejected the nihilsm of the black-jacket crowd. He also had a filthy mouth and wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Day after day he’d shout out the “chuckisms” that he never seemed to get tired of. “POTTY!” was a favorite. And the endlessly over-used punch-line “I had a date like that once”. They were expressions so old and played-out that they took on newer, funnier lives simply because he blurted them out so often.
By the late 1980’s Upchuck had moved on from Seattle, like a lot of his contemporaries. The Northwest music scene was too limited and any chance of industry scouts showing up in Seattle was still unheard of. Upchuck with his band The Fags set off to New York City where they met modest success in the downtown scene that was exploding at the time. After a couple of years The Fags disintegrated as a band, but without the drama that usually accompanies that stuff. Everyone moved on to different pursuits, but still remained close friends. They remain friends still.
Upchuck remained in New York City to pursue a solo career in music and acting. He landed a couple of good roles and an especially wonderful part in the video “Eight Arms to Hold You” an Arthur Baker production that was to used in the film “Goonies” It didn’t make the film but the song and video became a “free-style hit. In 1987 producer Yorum Vazan introduced Upchuck to a brilliant young Israeli songwriter named Shlomo Sonnenfeld. Together they wrote inspired music that sounds as fresh today as it did when they came up with it. They named the duo they created ‘Such’. For live performances they were joined by the best musicians they could find: including McGinty of The Psychedelic Furs, Iggy Pop drummer Paul Garisto and bassist Kent Weber who’s worked with everyone from Donovan to Triumph The Insult Comic Dog.
Soon the team of Upchuck and Shlomo attracted the attention of John Holbrook, a multi-Grammy winning producer/artist/mixmaster who worked primarily at Bearsville Studios in Upstate New York. He became their producer and mentor. Together they entered the studio with a handful of songs that would be the core of their breakthrough album. Upchuck’s big break was just around the corner. 
Just as everything began to fall into place, he woke up one morning on a trip to Seattle to find he‘d lost his voice. It was TB. In the mid-1980’s an otherwise healthy young man contracting TB meant only one thing: AIDS. Fortunately he was back among the friends that he’d spent most of his punk years with, but he wanted to move forward. His voice eventually returned but he never recorded again. Ironically, he managed to do two of his most notorious shows during this period. Both were Fags reunions dubbed the First and Second ‘Annual Fags Reunion and Macaroni & Cheese Bake-offs They’re still talked about, and Macaroni & Cheese has never been the same.
Despite the AIDS Upchuck didn’t complain much unless the listener might reward him with a new pair of shoes or a shabby but stylish ‘40’s fur coat. Besides, there was always a project or an idea that needed attending to. There were friends and social gatherings, even though eventually everything became too much of a chore. Life became an endless struggle between living life full and not having the health to do it. Going on without his full voice, his music and his time onstage was worse to him than living with his illness. The last two years of his life were the most excruciating. Not because of the illness, but because it kept him from doing all the things he had yet to accomplish.

On the morning of May 28, 1990 Charles Gregory Gerra drew his last breath. It wasn’t an easy death, and it was clear he wasn’t ready to leave. At the very moment of his passing the most incredible bolt of energy exploded out of his body, into the entire room and beyond. He wasn’t going without leaving as much as he could behind. It’s an energy that hasn’t yet dissipated. It’s still here with us. He’s still here with us….with those who’ve loved him for so many years, and those who will love him after the next 40 minutes of listening to this CD. Charles Gerra may be gone, but Upchuck lives on.


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5 comments:

  1. It's one of the best CDs of this decade. I really love this cd! Upchuck, te quiero!!

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  2. These songs are really great! How come I never heard them?

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  3. These songs are great! Especially love "backbiting"

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  4. This stuff is knock out! Can't wait to hear more. Congrats!!!!!

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