Bradley's Almanac

Before the Bordello: When Eugene was a Fag

Posted on July 26, 2007 at 9:56 am | 3 Comments

And here’s the post that, as if it hasn’t happened already, officially adds the Almanac to the profanity-blocking filters of every American school system…

I’m compelled to following along with Eugene Hutz‘s story over the last 15 or so years: First, a newly-immigrated Ukrainian guitarist/songwriter putting up ‘bandmates wanted’ signs around Burlington, Vermont; Soon after, a manic three-chord, punk rock frontman for a trio he confrontationally (for Vermont, at least) called the Fags; Then, after incorporating the musical leanings of his ancestry and leaving town, the NYC-based leader of the gypsy-punk collective known as Gogol Bordello; Next thing you know, movie star on his way to being Madonna’s Live Earth sidekick. Totally surreal.

Surreal for me, anyway, mostly because I’d answered Eugene’s call for ‘bandmates wanted’ waaaay back when. In Vermont, he was Eugene Nikolaev, and if you know of him through his Gogol Bordello performances or the many interviews he’s been doing to promote their out-now album, “Super Taranta!”, he was pretty much exactly the guy he is now, minus the carefully-cultivated wardrobe. A rock star waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him, a bona fide showman full of enthusiasm, punk attitude, and energy enough to make shit happen.

That musicians-wanted poster listed influences like Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Dinosaur Jr., so even though I was in another band at the time, I couldn’t not give the guy a call. Burlington was tiny enough, and so completely Phish-ified back then, that finding another musician with similar tastes was a relative rarity. So we hooked up to mess around on a few covers (“Waiting Room” and “Kool Thing” among them, I think) in my band’s practice-space basement. Fatefully, nothing ever came of it, as Eugene would go on to find a more like-minded (and far more punk-rockin’) drummer in Dana Shephard, and the two would start up the Fags.

I was a Fags fan from the get-go, even though their punk-on-their-sleeves attitude and Eugene’s over-the-top on-stage (and off-stage) personality rubbed some of my friends the wrong way. Not me, though. I dug him, and his band, and not just because no other local acts playing at the 242 Main teen center were doing anything like what they were. The thickly-accented vocals (which, at first, some wrongly assumed were affected) fronted undeniably catchy songs… it was punk with melody, some bite, but without a raging mean-streak. The only full-length they released, “No Fleas, Lunch Money, and Gold Teeth”, even threw in a touch of acoustic guitar, accordion, and some additional percussion, something most area punk or hardcore bands at the time wouldn’t dare try. Their live shows usually blew away their studio recordings, as is the case with Gogol Bordello, mostly because Eugene & co. brought so much damn energy to the stage.

The Fags circa 1995: Dana Shephard,
Jason Cooley, and Eugene Hutz

While Dana was the Fags’ only-ever drummer, three different (and all excellent) bass players would come and go: Josh Levy, Shawn Flanigan (who’s now in Fire The Cannons), and for the longest and most productive period, Jason Cooley (who co-runs Icebox Records). I’ll leave it to some future historian to chronicle the Fags’ “Behind The Music” story that details their difficulty in keeping a bass player, but it maybe says a bit about Eugene and Dana that they were able to get such talented guys to fill the spot, and have trouble holding onto them (Denny and I would eventually, and fortunately, snag Shawn to play with us in our own band).

So before I left Burlington behind, I’d somehow become a sort of local music scene booster, writing about area bands, putting together shows, and releasing a series of split 7″ records (on the imaginatively named Split Records). In the small pond that was Burlington, I always tried to tread kindly, steering clear of negativity and doing things with bands I wasn’t necessarily all that into musically in order to foster a closer sense of community. But with the Fags, I was always psyched to see and play with them, always into the songs they’d contribute to compilations, a few of which I’ll share here…

The first comes from the last of the six Split 7″ singles, which was released in the fall of 1995. The Fags recorded one of their most frenetic numbers, “Pills Of Patience“, for the three-song record that also had cuts from local bands Jesus Nut and Rocketsled. I’ll never forget the day I got back that test pressing… it just sounded so perfect on vinyl, and I played “Pills…” incessantly. But since I can’t mail each of you one of the dusty extra copies I’ve got in my basement, have an MP3…

[MP3]: The Fags – “Pills Of Patience

In 1996, I put out a cassette compilation of local bands recorded on a four-track by Denny Donovan called “4-Track Action”, and the Fags song “Let’s Not Be Friends” was the lead-off, and a personal fave. By then I’d become increasingly tired of Burlington’s small-pond syndrome, and Eugene’s biting lyrics were exactly what I wanted to hear…

[MP3]: The Fags – “Let’s Not Be Friends

I guess you don’t really understand
That I don’t give a fucking damn
About winning your respect
Oh no, it’s nothing I collect

Let’s not be friends, let’s not be friends
Let’s not be friends, let’s not be friends

And I don’t care what kind of shit
Flies off your mouth behind of me
Or your retarded, sucky zine
Or your position in the scene

Let’s not be friends, let’s not be friends
Let’s not be friends, let’s not be friends

The last track I’ll share isn’t one I helped release, but is one that is long out-of-print. It’s the song they offered up for a 1996 Big Heavy World cd compilation of Burlington-area bands called “Sonic Tonic”

[MP3]: The Fags – “She’s Coming Over

Last I checked, someone had made the entirety of “No Fleas…” available for download over here. Looks like that zip file was made from a cd burn I created for a Gogol fan awhile back, and it includes some other extra tracks.

A related postscript: In 1994, in one of the stranger (sloppier?) and short-lived incarnations of cartoonist/songwriter James Kochalka‘s backing band (aka James Kochalka Superstar), I had a total blast playing drums behind James, Eugene on guitar, Pistol Stamen on guitar (of the Pants), and my pal Colin Clary on bass (catch him now in the Smittens & the Magogs). Here’s a little video evidence, from a show at the still-missed Club Toast…

I’ll be sharing up more of that performance eventually, but considering it took me years to get that one clip posted, don’t wait up…


3 Responses to “Before the Bordello: When Eugene was a Fag”

  1. Devon Daniels
    June 4th, 2020 @ 10:20 pm

    Anyway you can send me a link to the FAGs MP3s?

  2. Brad Searles
    June 6th, 2020 @ 1:17 pm

    I lost the folder that had the images & songs in a hard drive crash years ago, but I spent some time going through an old backup and found the MP3s. I just re-upped them, so they should be available again in the post. \m/

  3. Devon Daniels
    June 6th, 2020 @ 2:47 pm

    Thanks for the reply! I found this band using Napster years ago. I was as a joke looking for any bands named the FAGs. To my surprise I found it two really good ones; the ones in Detroit and Eugene’s band.

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