D Generation: New York City’s Finest, Back for Reunion

With their recent reunion shows, the guys from D Generation are finally being given the accolades they deserve. Actually they deserve a lot more than just that. In my estimation they were not only the best band of the ’90s but they were one of the only ones that actually mattered. A shining pillar of rock ‘n’ roll, keeping alive the New York City rock flame and using it to set things on fire while drunk. They have always been one of my favorite bands and I was thrilled to discover last fall after 11 years they were going to reform to play some shows and possibly record a new album. Now I’m sure there are many who were equally excited by this but there are many more who fail to recognize the significance of this event. Understanding the context of things is imperative, so put down that Miller High Life, turn off “America’s Next Top Irritating Chick Who Never Shuts the Fuck Up” and listen here.

Now, imagine this nightmare scenario: You are a teenager trapped in central Pennsylvania. You hate everything except rock ‘n’ roll music and even that seems to be in short supply because it’s the ’90s and the order of the day is “alternative” music. As in, alternative to anything you would ever want to hear. You spend your time listening to Funhouse by the Stooges and L.A.M.F. by the Heartbreakers and reading “Please Kill Me” during Spanish class. Everything on the radio is terrible and the only bands touring are from Seattle, dress like bums and are so dull that they can’t be differentiated from one another. There isn’t a Chuck Berry lick to be heard anywhere and people can’t seem to grasp that Dave Mathews is just a crappy bar band that became popular because people who love sports don’t actually care about music and just want shitty songs to sob along to while hugging each other in vomit-drenched polo shirts. It’s why they all love Billy Joel. Life goes on and you think “If only I had been alive in N.Y.C. in 1976, I wouldn’t have had to strain myself keeping my homicidal tendencies in check every time some asshole starts playing a Sublime song on an acoustic guitar because I’d be watching Waldo setting the bar on fire with his tasteful guitar licks while Johnny Thunders pukes on a waitress…”

Fortunately for all involved, science is punk rock as fuck. You see, some dead scientist once said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case the universe realized an antidote was needed to counteract the drudgery that was modern rock. It had to come from the only place high test enough to pull it off, New York City. And so, out of time and space, D Generation arrived as avatars of everything cool, here to set things right with raunchy guitars and a mandate to wash away “Alternative Radio” in a rock action deluge of biblical proportion.

Upon its discovery, my friends and I played their first record constantly. It was everything we thought was awesome. The songs were all fantastic. Singer Jesse Malin had the perfect self-deprecating and sarcastic lyrics, brimming with malice and mischief yet empathic enough to be absolutely relatable to anyone who was sick of things sucking, but far too full of vigor to ever find comfort in the coffee shop ennui of Seattle grunge. The guitars were a return to glory, Richard Bacchus and Danny Sage could play real rock ‘n’ roll, tasteful yet searing and in perfect tandem with one another. The bass playing of Howie Pyro was pummeling and Michael Wildwood played drums with the power of a Great White Shark biting a steel girder in half.

It‘s a fantastic record through and through. “No Way Out,” “Waiting for the next Big parade,” “Sins of America.” There was a song called “Guitar Mafia” for fuck’s sake, what could be cooler than that? They dressed better than anyone else in music at the time and had the perfect mixture of arrogance and self loathing. How could this band not become wildly popular?

Well the answer to that is simple. The general music-buying public loves spectacle but hates music. Additionally, record labels hate music. So it came as no surprise that D Generation was juggled around various labels because the band was fantastic and the only thing that interested the major record labels was ruining the record industry as completely and thoroughly as possible.

So eventually after a bunch of bullshit and irritation, the band recorded its second album, this time with Ric Ocasek of The Cars producing. The result was No Lunch and even though it included re-recorded versions of several tunes from the first album, it was a blistering record. The sound was bigger, the attitude even more subversive. When the LP was released on two 10″ records I remember being in the record store and examining the contents of the lunchbox photograph inside the gatefold.

Once again, it was high-octane rock ‘n’ roll at its best. The song “Capital Offender” is one of the greatest songs ever written with its infectious guitar riffs and lyrical tale of caution. My friends and I once got so amped up listening to it that we set the massive awning below our apartment window on fire. “She Stands There” is a superb burst of distorted guitars and the new versions of “Waiting For the Next Big Parade” and “Frankie” hit so hard that a stereo playing them actually holds the world U.F.C. championship, having vaporized all challengers in the ring. Actually I don’t know anything about U.F.C. because I’m too busy liking things that don’t suck, like guitars and Clark’s desert boots.

After a handful of troubling personnel changes the band soldiered on and released Through the Darkness. It would be their last album, signaling the band’s end. It is certainly the equal of its predecessors in my mind. “Rise and Fall,” “Good Ship Down,” “Cornered”…the sound was darker but no less rocking. I listened to that album every night at my janitorial night job during my first year of college. It was a rough time and if not for that record and a lot of drinking, I might have sold my guitar and started attending class. That could have easily snowballed into some sort of agonizing career so I guess I owe the boys a personal thank you. Without those rock sounds corroding my brain, I might actually know how to tie a tie and not just know how to tie one on. Hardy fucking har.

Despite the massive talent they clearly possessed, the band just didn’t receive the attention or credit they deserved. Their singles failed to generate sales, a fact I find especially baffling when one looks at what was selling at the time. The greatest band to come out of New York in ages just released a record and you want Kid Rock? How could you not be a snobby elitist about music at that point? They all make it so easy.

So the bandmates split and went their separate ways. I tried to keep up with the various new projects and albums. Chrome Locust and Bellvue to name a couple. Jesse Malin became a singer songwriter and while I certainly have strong opinions about that fact, I’ll limit my criticism to this: If I want to hear “Bastards of Young,” it will be the Stinson brothers or nothing at all.

Years went by, mostly without any bands embodying the energy and excitement that D Generation did. Then one day, like a lightning bolt from the ass of God, they were back together. I purchased tickets for their Irving Plaza appearance as soon as I could.

On show day, I strolled up to Irving Plaza and it seemed like there weren’t many people there which was discouraging. There was a van selling Marky Ramone pasta sauce parked out front. Even more discouraging. Then I saw Handsome Dick Manitoba and my spirits were instantly lifted. I went in and started getting loaded. After enduring several opening bands that I remember nothing about, probably due to the booze and speed, the band walked on stage. By this point the place was packed. They proceeded to play one of the most exciting, intense and amazing shows I have ever seen. It was just great rock ‘n’ roll being played by a band that loved to play rock ‘n’ roll. Their energy was massive, their playing was devastating. It was the first show I had been to in ages where people actually seemed to move and have fun instead of just standing there with looks of disapproval.

D Generation played the fuck out of that show with a rock-action multiplier of one million and it was worth waiting 11 years to experience. They may not have received the credit they deserved in the day but they have once again proven that the best rock ‘n’ roll can withstand any bullshit trend. Put any of their ’90s contemporaries next to them and the bands will not only fail to stand up to D Generation but will actually develop personality disorders and skin lesions as their fragile psyches crumble in the face of real rock ‘n’ roll music being played without pretense.

Go see them July 3 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, July 6 in Long Branch, N.J. at the Brighton Bar and July 7 in New York City at the Bowery Electric. Attendance is mandatory, there is “No Way Out.”

Like all guitar players, I am a dork and always want to know what gear guitarists use. Here is what Danny Sage and Richard Bacchus punish on stage and in the studio. Danny Sage’s Live setup: 1972 Les Paul Custom, various Les Paul Standards through a 1973 Marshall 100-watt JMP head and two 4×12 Marshall cabs with celestion greenback speakers. Sioux pedals. Richard Bacchus’ studio setup on the first D Generation album: 1960 Les Paul junior through a 50-watt Marshall JMP. Colorsound boost pedal.

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