Why would anyone want to listen to an L.P. of a 30-year old demo tape from a band who never exactly changed the world?
The band in question is Cerritos, California’s Channel 3, and the record is To Whom It May Concern. Channel 3 played hardcore, which in the ‘80s meant one of two things: explicit pornography or the American brand of faster, louder, angrier punk rock.
In films about artists, whether it’s Jackson Pollock or Johnny Cash, there’s always that squirm-inducing scene where the exact artistic transgression that will change culture forever is explained to the audience in a massive infodump. So in their hypothetical biopic, let’s call it Fear of Life: The Ch. 3 Story, the expository scene, starring (it’s Hollywood, accuracy be damned!) Kevin Spacey as David Geffen and Ryan Reynolds as guitarist/vocalist Mike Magann (front men always hog the screen time) might play out like this:
INT: GEFFEN OFFICES — DAY
DAVID GEFFEN leans back in a leather chair. At the far end of the room, MIKE MAGANN slouches against a wall lined with gold and platinum records.
You can’t play that fast kid. Someone’s gonna get hurt.
That’s the point, man.
DAVID leans forward in his chair, his fingers pressed together.
And these lyrics. They’re too socially conscious. You’re tackling taboos about American prison camps and changing sexual mores — that’s not going to sell to middle America.
(flips the bird)
Screw you, David Geffen. And middle America! We’re gonna join an independent label and make raw, wild records, reminiscent of the untrammeled musical freedom of the earliest days of rock n’ roll. We’re gonna strip the music down to it’s most basic components and then play it so fast that people’ll have to read the lyric sheet just to figure out what hit ‘em!
MIKE exits, slamming the door to the opening riff of “You Lie.”
To Whom It May Concern is a recently unearthed demo that provides the rush of discovery without all that painful exposition and bad casting. Now you can hear for yourself the songs — ragers like “Manzanar” and poppier ones like “Life Goes On” — that floored producer Robbie Fields, the (non-murderous) Phil Spector of hardcore. You’ll hear Magrann and Gardner ‘s clearly articulated guitar fury and their vocal interplay powering songs that never lack for riffs, hooks or dynamics. And you’ll hear it in songs that do it all in under 120 seconds.
In Nick Hornby’s novel, Juliet, Naked, a couple break-up due to their opposite reaction to a collection of demos that fictional singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe made for a famously tortured album. Since Channel 3 never traded in the kind of self-dramatizing narcissism common to musical legends from Dylan to Rollins to Morrissey, this collection isn’t likely to destroy any relationships. Instead, as the movie they did make about the band — a documentary titled One More For All My True Friends — points out, Channel 3 were more like a Band of Brothers (Magrann and fellow guitarist/vocalist Gardner having been friends since second grade) who steadfastly remain as they began: “Normal guys who got lucky and got to say what a lot of people had on their minds.”
* out of **
Channel 3 didn’t change the world, but that might be the world’s loss.