Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The day the hardcore punk music (almost) died

Chuck Biscuits beating the skins for the Circle Jerks.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 4, 2009


Joe Keithley, who operates a small record label, opened his email one day recently to find a flood of condolence notes.

Sad news. Sorry for your loss.

Mr. Keithley had no idea who had died. The notes offered no clue.

He is not unaccustomed to grief. He has lost friends to drugs and to disease, the excesses of the music scene not conducive to a healthy life.

As a young man, he formed a punk band and launched a label to release a record no one else would. D.O.A. and Sudden Death Records carry in their names a young person’s carefree mocking of mortality.

It did not take long on the computer to learn the terrible news.

Chuck Biscuits was dead.

Throat cancer had claimed him at age 44.

Mr. Keithley had known him since the boy was in elementary school in Burnaby, the younger brother of a neighbourhood friend. At age 15, Chuck Biscuits became D.O.A.’s original drummer. He left after three years, playing for such bands as Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Danzig, gaining a cult reputation for his frantic drumming. He played with a wild abandon reminiscent of the Muppets’ Animal thrashing the kit for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

Chuck Biscuits’ reputation was such that his name appeared on Top 10 lists of all-time punk and hardcore drummers. When not included, the comment section would invariably include a posting along the lines of: “How can your list have any credibility without the legendary Chuck Biscuits ...?”

A decade ago, he quit the music scene, becoming a semi-recluse.

Mr. Keithley found it hard to believe he had not earlier heard of Chuck’s illness, let along his death.

Yet, the news was being reported on music websites and by such news outlets as the CBC, the Boston Herald, the London (Ont.) Free Press, the New Musical Express, National Public Radio, and by Entertainment Weekly.

Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia written by all-comers, noted the death.

Mr. Keithley knew he had to call Chuck’s brother, Bob Montgomery.

“Bob was all cheery,” he recalled later. His own stomach sank. Bob hadn’t heard.

“Uh, what’s happening with your brother?” Mr. Keithley asked.

Mr. Montgomery was on the job as a Vancouver bus driver. He had not heard the news. He wasn’t sure it was true, though he had not spoken with Chuck in some time. He promised to find out what had happened to his younger brother.

Bob Montgomery was the middle born of three brothers and the only one not to become a drummer. His older brother, Ken, was a high school classmate of Mr. Keithley’s in Burnaby. The two met when Joe headbutted Ken during a touch football game. They became fast friends.

Ken lived in his parent’s garage, which he outfitted with his drum kit. The boys jammed in there, a little brother sometimes sitting on the upper mattress of a bunk bed, keeping time on bongos.

In time, all would take punk names. Ken became Dimwit. His younger brother, Charles, also known as Chuck, which sounded like upchuck, became Chuck Biscuits. Joe took a common, scatalogically-inclined slang that was a vulgar synonym for bonehead. He answers to it to this day.

In 1994, Dimwit died of an accidental overdose, an occasional heroin user succumbing to the purity of a shipment of China White. His family was not alone in their grief, as dozens of heroin users were dying in Vancouver in those days. Bob discovered his body. Ken was 36.

On Friday, it again fell to Bob to find determine a brother’s fate.

“Poor Bob,” Mr. Keithley remembers thinking. “This is rotten. One brother gone already.”

Meanwhile, graphic artist Scott Beadle, who as a boy had published his own punk fanzine, titled Skitzoid, began posting details about Chuck Biscuits on his Facebook page. In short order, he posted a warning.

The only source of the report of the death was a blog entry by James Greene, Jr., a New York freelance writer and contributor to Crawdaddy!, the online music magazine.

He said after several months of online correspondence with Mr. Biscuits and his wife that he had received an email on Friday morning reading, “Chuck did not survive his battle with throat cancer. He passed away surrounded by his family on 10/24/09.”

Within hours, the report went viral.

An early debunking note was posted by the artist Bad Otis Link, who wrote on his Facebook page: “Chuck sent me an email last night at 11:55. DEAD MEN DON’T EMAIL!”

In short order, Bob Montgomery reported back. He had good news. His brother was alive and well. He did not have cancer.

The New York blogger posted a report from the family stating, “Chuck is alive.”

He alleged to have been the victim of an elaborate hoax.

“All I can tell you is I’ve been communicating with two people since May and I was always 99.999% sure were THE Chuck Biscuits and his wife from e-mail addresses bearing their names,” Mr. Greene wrote. “They never asked me to wire money to a Nigerian prince or adopt their child, so I took it all at face value.”

Four hours and 49 minutes after reporting the death, a Wikipedia contributor performed a digital resurrection.

Michael Marotta, author of the Boston Herald blog item, retracted the fake report by audaciously stating, “Is Chuck Biscuits really hoax-worthy?”

Carrie Brownstein, who writes the Monitor Mix blog for National Public Radio, reported the death, later wrote an apology including this egregious statement: “As for me, until Chuck Biscuits is sitting next to me as I type this, I still won’t know for sure.”

She’s happy to report a death with no evidence, but demands overwhelming proof of continued existence. Let not the facts stand in the way of a good story, a mantra for this age of insta-gossip.

“It’s great that he’s alive,” Mr. Keithley said. “But from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. he was dead and that was tough.

“It’s unbelievable a lie can spread so fast.”

No cancer. No death. Just a lot of egg on the face of a blogger and those who rush to publish without confirming facts.


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