It is easy to make fun of Pleasanton, or “Ton-Town,” the suburb in which I grew up. While the name itself already conjures up middle American complacency they literally have a Clorox headquarters there to make sure things stay extra white. But somehow, against all odds, I stumbled into local culture that spoke to me. And its voice said “GET OUT.”
But until I was old enough to do such a thing I still managed to encounter micro bastions of hope that provided me glimpses into futures as yet unwritten. In the early days I gleamed potentially alternate timelines when the annual county fair rolled into town every summer, with their nomadic carnies infiltrating our safe spaces and inadvertently keeping Pleasanton’s butthole from closing in on itself.
And for a short time a tiny record/head shop called Portable Madness also thrived within our city limits. The store was rather irreverently placed between a 7/11 and a dentist office, slingshotting distance from a high school, a middle school, and two elementary schools. From the outside looking in the place seemed to be lit only by black light, the walls held together by horror movie posters, and it radiated all the mojo that fed into the satanic panic of the day. As such, it felt intimidating and unwelcoming. But in 1984 I was determined to buy my dad the new Scorpions album and Portable Madness seemed like the place to do it.
I crossed its beaded threshold and never since has my interest been piqued by so much in one single location. Everyone reading this now can probably visualize this store’s vibe, but for me at 10 years old it was like treading into a threatening yet titillating horror movie, right down to the death imagery and blisteringly loud heavy metal soundtrack. A geniune wunderkammer. I definitely remember feeling like I was not old enough to be there, which definitely made me more interested in being there.
So before anyone could escort me out I buried myself in the record bins. Slowly, deliberately, one after the other I flipped through every single record. More skulls, pointy fonts, sexuality, blood, angry faces, and bad words than I ever knew existed. I only wish I’d been a little bit older to fully appreciate the place before the cops shut it down. (But before that happened I did manage to buy my dad Love At First Sting with the original cover, before it was replaced with the less tawdry band photo version.)
Shortly thereafter a new record store opened up down the street by the name of City Records (so-called, I’m guessing, because it brought some of the city into the suburbs). It was a clean, well-lighted place by comparison, but the proprietor, Dave, was still fearless about the things he’d stock on his shelves. My first purchase was a copy of the Misfits‘ Evilive LP and I returned it the next day because I thought it was defective. Astonishingly, Dave had two copies of it and when I brought the new copy home I learned that the Misfits were actually just a shitty live band with shitty sounding records. Those two copies of that record go for a couple hundred bucks now, go figure.
All this is a roundabout way to get to the part where I bought my first NOMEANSNO cassette. (Truth be told, Paul bought it and I just duped it. That guy was always a step ahead.) It was a double cassette with The Day Everything Became Nothing on one side and Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed on the other (aka The Day Everything Became Isolated and Destroyed).
If it wasn’t on the Alternative Tentacles record label we may not have even given it a chance. And even still it was a hard sell. It was nothing like their labelmates, like Dead Kennedys or the Crucifucks. Some of the songs were almost ten minutes long, and riffs repeated endlessly. The singer didn’t yell in any conventional Punk Rock way, there were no guitar solos, and the lyrics read like poetry. There wasn’t even a parental advisory sticker on it, for criminy’s sake. Listing things I shouldn’t like about NOMEANSNO is somehow way easier than articulating why they ultimately became one of the most listened-to bands of my youth.
Soon we got their new album, Wrong, and as far as we were concerned no other band need exist ever again. It was like no one ever told NOMEANSNO that the Ramones, King Crimson, and Dave Brubek were all supposed to be filed under different sections at the music store. The NOMEANSNO record inserts were vague but it seemed the band were a power trio from Canada consisting of the Wright brothers and a third guy named None Of Your Fucking Business.
When we saw they were playing at 924 Gilman St. we showed up a couple hours early in hopes of meeting them. Someone inside the club said they were in their van down the road. At the time, the area surrounding Gilman was a no man’s land and so we walked down the club’s desolate side street that was always lined with dilapidated RVs and shanty vans while trying to find the band. The first van we encountered had its side hatch open and so we popped our heads inside. The old, disheveled homeless men lounging about inside were just as startled as we were and we tried to beat a hasty retreat before they possibly, likely, certainly murdered us (we were still sheltered kids from the suburbs, after all). One of the old men asked rather politely what we were doing, and we apologized and explained that we were just looking for a band.
“A band from Canada.”
“We’re a band from Canada.”
“Are you… Nomeansno?”
“Ey, that’s us!”
True to their Great White Northern roots, they were friendly and chatty and took our worship of them with great humility.
The show was utterly amazing. I filmed it and over the years that video has popped up on compilation videos and on the youtubes. I just watched it again and it still moves me, 30+ years later. So tight, so powerful, so playful, so tuneful, so talented, so unique, so artful, and so so rocking.
NOMEANSNO is a band unto themselves. The only bands that come within spitting distance of sounding like them are their own other bands. Apparently, NOMEANSNO is considered the godfathers of an entire genre called “Math Rock” but you’d have to dig pretty deep to find one single band, Math Rock or otherwise, who sounds anything like them – and if you do it is clear they were just aping NOMEANSNO (which is not necessarily a bad thing). How refreshing to find art created by people who could not care less about trends or convention. The more I think about this the less I want to share my own version below so, as always, I hope you enjoy my cover but please seek out the original. If they aren’t already your favorite band may I suggest you start with their record titled Wrong.
Download the MP3 here.