Bad Brains and the mystery of HR




*** update fall 2016 - congratulations to Bad Brains for being nominated to the Rock hall of Fame


****Finding Joseph i update Jan 2017.  < Click there  <

I swear, this is a tough love letter to HR and Bad Brains.  It won't look it when I am done, because they are such a fucking mess.   Not theyhe.  I have so much to say about Bad Brains, let’s see if I can do this without getting too long winded*. Bad Brains are amazing. These guys pioneered heavy metal, hardcore, thrash, reggae, everything. These guys were doing speed metal back in the late 70’s. It is also melodic and beautiful. Also, somehow, it is reggae. This is really, really good reggae. Oh, and it is also thrash.  It’s is happy speedy thoughtful religious speed metal reggae.  They didn’t just invent it… they are it.  Like Hunter Thompson and Gonzo journalism… Bad Brains have no competition.  Not outwardly, anyway.

Here, you need to listen to some of their songs. Appreciate the music first and foremost.  Then, we will talk about the mess behind the scenes. Every band you love knows they were the founders of all that is good and powerful in rock. You know how every musician says they were inspired by the Beatles?  Well, everyone punk or metal then says same about Bad Brains.


If you aren't familiar with them, let's start with this one.  It's called 'Return to Heaven'.  It manages to capture all of their different styles - 




Everything about them is unique: the look, the melody, the talent level, the race, the musicality.  They are one of the most important rock bands ever. I would rather see a good Bad Brains show than just about any other band. A good Bad Brains show. That is the catch, and that is what we are going to talk about today. Denver rock writer G Brown once said of Van Morrison “he is in the top five best shows I have ever seen, and he is in the top 5 worst shows I have ever seen.” This could be said for Bad Brains.  Shit... look at this in its singularity - a black rock band.  A black punk band.  A black thrash hardcore band.  They have no peerage.


This piece is more the story of their lead singer, HR.  His name is Paul Hudson, but he has always gone by 'HR' which stands for Human Rights.  Well, what is what he says.  You can't believe him, though.  He's nuts.




HR is the self destructive, erratic, and wildly powerful singer for the band. He is also one of the most talented singers and front men; which is why we are talking about him. If he was just an asshole (and he is an asshole) the conversation would be over. He is the definitive black voice in all of rock. I have seen them live a bunch. One of the shows was the best thing in history, just wicked mind blowing. One was ok, and one was terrible. I mean terrible. HR decided instead of singing that he was going to play trumpet. He is this amazing conundrum. They started in the 70s, and still play today. They have to, because with HR as their singer they will never get rich. He gets arrested, a lot. Assault, drugs, fun stuff like that.  Here is the thing, though.  It's not like he is mean.  Or, he doesn't mean to be mean.  He is just nuts.

If you see an interview, he comes off as super gentle and thoughtful.  He literally comes across as a guy who wouldn’t burn at ant with a magnifying glass.  Maybe it’s the crack, but one of his many arrests was for braining a guy at a concert with the base of a microphone stand.  That is a 12 pound piece of pure steel.  This is what he does to his fans.

Really, Axl Rose would be the idea comparison here. Guns and Roses could easily be the biggest band in the world right now, and over the last 20 years. They had it ALL, and one person threw it away. This is what HR has done to Bad Brains. Sometimes he doesn’t show up for gigs. He quits the band every few years. Sometimes he shows up on stage and refuses to sing.  He is the black Axl.  The Blaxl


Here is the thing.  I want them to tour and sound they like they did in 1986.  I know, time passes and that is impossible.  Except, it isn't always.  A couple bands I see very regularly, James Taylor and Iron Maiden, sound exactly like they did 30 years ago.  Actually, both sound better.  So... why can't I see Bad Brains?  Well, they are all alive.  In fact, the band is 100% capable of sounding how you think they might.  The limitation, then, is HR.  I don't think he can sing anymore.  PLUS... no one knows... because he kinda refuses to.

I don't know that you could have seen the band at their full (mid 80s) greatness in 2005, or 1995, or even 1990.  On occasion, but it has been SO hit or miss in the last 30 years because of HR... it is why they aren't known or loved like they should be.

There is a fascinating documentary about them you should watch. It is called 'Band in DC', which is a great retrospective warts and all.  The name is a pun on their legendary status of being banned across Washington DC, which is where they came from.  They were banned because of HR, of course.  There are differing stories to the legend.  The documentary folks went and talked to the old club owners. One said they were banned because HR kept up to 50 people on his guest lists for shows.  In a venue that holds only 200 people, that doesn't leave much room for profit for the club owner.
Normally, I would recommend buying it. The band could use the money, and the deserve it. However, for some insane reason, you can’t buy it. Imagine all the resources involved in the movie and the poor filmmaker can’t sell it. Imagine hearing about the new Mission Impossible movie and then finding out it isn’t coming out. I have written the band and asked, but there are no answers. It would not surprise me if HR wouldn’t sign the releases necessary.  It’s not uncommon.  After Bob Dylan saw what an asshole he was in ‘Don’t Look Back’, he sued to stop it.  The judge, wisely, allowed it’s release.  In both those cases, your protagonist is likely saying “this movie unfairly portrays me as a total dick’.  The answer then is ‘well, that wasn’t clever editing.  It’s because are you are total dick.  If this is news to you, maybe hiring a documentary crew to follow you around wasn’t the best idea”.

Ok, let's slow it down with 'I & I Survive'.  Just beautiful.  It's basically straight reggae.



 

You will note the tone of this piece is not objective, or even handed. I am angry.  I am sad. I want them to be successful. I want to see them live again. This is impossible to do when no one will book the band. Would you book a band where the lead singer may not show up? Well, if that happened at least insurance would back your losses. What if the singer shows up and decides to wear a full faced motorcycle helmet through the whole show, and so can’t be heard singing? Yeah, that awesomeness is in the documentary.

They have had so many second chances, too. The Beastie Boys took them on tour, but that didn’t last because HR attacked his band violently when they tried to get him off the bus to go onstage. Madonna signed them to a big fat recording contract, but that fell apart after HR got jailed for attacking a fan during a show with the mic stand. Not the microphone, mind you. That super thick chunk of steel that keeps the mic from tipping over.

Ed note – correction.  He assaulted three fans with the mic stand.

This time his targets were three fans rather than his own manager.
Police in Lawrence, Kansas allege that the lead singer was arrested early
Friday (July 21) after hitting two fans with a microphone
stand at a nightclub.  Lt. Mark Brothers said, “As far as we can discern there
was no apparent reason for the attack. It was completely without
warning…by words of victims and fellow band members.” One of the
battered fans needed five stitches in his head and the two others had minor
cuts and bruises
 
This is fun.  Note how the article points out that this incident did not involve him violently attacking his manager.  Geesh, what is the back story on that one?  This was all about ten years ago, so it’s tough to find details.

Now you see the analogies to Ax Rose. Here is the interesting thing, though. I don’t think he means to be a psychotic asshole… which is pretty much what he is.  Axl does.  HR is childlike. He would agree with that. It is believed he is schizophrenic, but I study these things and I am leaning towards manic depressive. It is sad. This is not romantic ‘misunderstood genius’, either.

Just get rid of him, right? You can’t. He is that good. If you get a great performance out of him, it is transcendent. The band is always spot on.  Plus, they have tried to replace him, a lot.


Let's close with this one.  To me, it is the definitive Bad Brains piece, for so many reasons.  The first is this, the vocal was recorded from jail.  Why was HR in jail?  Doesn't make a difference, he just usually is.  I also think this song is so beautiful.  When he sings about a Sacred Love, and you realize he is literally singing from inside a prison... wow.  Couple other things to note before you push play.  You will note these are all studio tracks I am playing for you.  I can't find any decent footage of them live.  35 years in business.  Also, they are all from the same album - I Against I.  Get it, it's full of crazy good shit like this.





If you get the chance, see them. It’s a risk, but worth it. Just like Van Morrison.  I only got to see Van once.  I haven’t seen him more because he simply does not tour.  At all.  Ever.  It’s smart, though.  See, Van doesn’t tour because he hates to tour.  He knows he has stage fright and he gets all crazy.  To perform, he had to drink a lot to face the fears.  So… he just doesn’t tour.  I guess that is what HR, and Axl should do.  Why book a tour that you know you aren’t going out for?

Regarding Van, it was a great show.

Comments

Kevin Lang said…
I was just looking at their site to see if they are coming. Sadly, nothing but cancellation notices and apologies for HR missing shows. Bummer
Anonymous said…
Seen them 3 times in the Bay Area CA. Once in the late 80's, best show ever. Once in early 90's second best show ever. Late 90's, worst show I have ever been too. HR just stood up there with a dumb grin and didn't sing. He just mumbled stuff that were not the lyrics.
Kevin Lang said…
To anonymous (if that is even your real name), you are exactly right. I have seen them twice. Once when they opened for Beastie Boys. HR was in his trumpet playing phase. It was just terrible.

Another time, years later, saw them in a bar in Denver, and they just KILLED it. I think they could be amazing every night. It's just up to HR if he is feeling it. Think you are frustrated as a fan? Imagine being in the band?

you literally have no idea if he will show up to a gig. if he does, he may just stand there for two hours. he has done this before. When he is on, though, they are one of the best bands of all time.

I can imagine its the same thing dealing with Axl.
Dale said…
Now with Dr. Know in slow recovery from a near fatal cardiac incident and HR diagnosed with ongoing crippling headaches,the future of Bad Brains has taken another uncertain turn. I don't think HR will be giving ANY more shows,good or bad. The last two CDS were pretty strong in my opinion. You just couldn't count on it live. Now,they may be the last we get from this band.
lady space said…
H.R. is certifiably insane & belongs in a mental institution. The fact that he's still even expected to perform on stage or even be a free walking member of society is fucked. I strongly agree with every word you've written w/ 2 exceptions.

1) This is NOT what manic depression/bi-polar looks like. Whatever he has is MUCH more severe. Not saying bi-polar isn't severe, it is. Schizophrenia is the best conclusion but even THAT I feel is still underselling it. He probably has several co-occurring mental disorders & the problem is they can suddenly be triggered later in life & if left untreated gets progressively worse w/ time. Which is why I think he seemed more well adjusted back in the day (albeit eccentric) & gave indescribable performances.

2) No good live footage? Check out the footage from CBGB's from '82.

To concur w/ you, I saw Bad Brains once about 10 years ago on one of those "music cruises" in NY where LOTS of people payed good $ to see them. It was packed. H.R. naturally refused to sing, did the helmet thing which he mumbled under & when he didn't have that on he spoke the lyrics very low in monotone. It was horrible. After each song he'd smile, fold his hands in prayer & bow repeatedly to the audience. I've had the option to see them again but refused to spend $ for another Bad Brains show no matter how FLAWLESS the band still is & warned anyone anxious to see them not to waste their $. Such a waste. They sound exactly like they did on their early records as I'm sure they're doing everything they can to make up for H.R.'s bullshit. I feel worse for them than the fans. Members from 1 of the greatest, most influential, unique bands of all time...that are all still alive, able to tour & performing at 110% should be able to pay their medical bills. They should have money & be successful. They deserve it. Their shows should be bigger than they are. The band clearly loves the fans, wants to tour & make money but they're just fucked.
Which brings me to my last point. H.R. can go fuck himself w/ his gofundme.org bullshit. When I caught wind of Dr.Know's situation my heart broke. I spread the word & donated. When I saw H.R. set 1 up soon after it immediately seemed fishy. Dr. Know pulled in $43.000 in 6 days which I believe he truly needed. The whole situation screams bullshit to me. Not to mention, after all the money he could've been making over the years from dedicated fans as well as new ones, he'd have all the money he needed for his "headaches". I don't feel bad for him 1 bit even if it is true. You ENDLESSLY flip the bird to your fans for no fucking reason (other than you being batshit crazy) then you ask them for money? Fuck you. Half your fans gave up on you a long time ago & if you can't support yourself it's your own fault. Put him in a straitjacket & admit him. The glory & genius of H.R. went to the cuckoo birds a long time ago.
Anonymous said…
Lady space: HR asked no one for money. It was a coincidence, not of HR's doing at all, that he and Dr. Know were both given GoFundMe's by different friends. They are both getting up there in age, and it is not strange that they both happen to be suffering with health issues. Look up SUNCT and see if you could handle that--it is hell.

To all of you: If you have never had bipolar schizophrenia, you are in no place to judge someone who does. It is ridiculous to admit that someone has mental/biological imbalances, then call his behavior "bullshit" and/or say he can "go fuck himself". That makes no logical sense. How about focus more on your own lives and leave HR alone. He doesn't even know who you are.
Lord Nose said…
He is not crazy. He is disturbed by how crazy the world is and doesnt want to participate.
Kevin of Parker said…
Anonymous, I respectfully disagree. I am 100% with Ladyspace on this. Here is why I think he is more asshole than victim. Most mental illnesses can be treated, or at least managed, these days. Who am I to tell him what to do? I am no one.

HOWEVER... he he continues to tour and sell tickets, he owes it to those people to give them their money's worth. If he seeks not to get better, or try and help himself... he should not be stringing his band and his fans along. Think of this poor band, and the constant bullshit they have had to put up with.

You can't tell me HR has no control over whether he decides to sing with a motorcycle helmet on. That is being a dick. I have a theory to that, btw. He didn't want to sing, but knew he couldn't just leave without the band losing their money. I am more than sure their contract would say they all have to be there and play for at least 45 minutes.

Also, his go fund me IS bullshit. Apparently, HR has been suffering from these headaches for years, which must be just horrible. I can't even imagine. But, he has managed to live with it for years. Then, Dr Know is on life support and almost dead... and his family puts up the Go Fund Me link. This is so that he may LIVE. Like a week later, HR has one up for this headaches? Fuck that. Oh... and know why Dr Know was broke? Because of HR! This is a band that can not tour or get anything done because of HR.

If HR was in so much pain that he simply couldn't go on stage... then I am no one to judge. But, he can get on stage and stand their with a helmet on? He is an asshole, on too many levels to count.

how about the phase where he decided the band should be called Soul Brains and he only wanted to play trumped. Wtf was that? I saw that tour (Beastie Boys 1996-ish) and it was heartbreaking. Imagine you have been waiting all your life to see Eric Clapton. You are there and he is there and wow this is happening... except Eric just wants to play trumpet or triangle. You may think "oh no, is he hurt, can he not play?". Oh, no. He can play fine, just chooses not too. He'll be here tomorrow night, too. You should get tickets. He may shred your face off with the best guitar work ever played. OR... Eric Clapton may just play triangle tomorrow night in a Big Bird head.

I hope you see my passion in this, because I am saddened. I LOVE this band! They are amazing, and the rest of the band sounds just studio perfect live every time. It hurts to know I could see one of the greatest bands of all time, but the lead singer is bored and so probably won't show up.

thank you all for stopping by and reading, btw. I also love the feedback! I could have deleted the comments I disagreed with, but I dig the discussion. I don't mind being wrong.
Anonymous said…
HR is 0% asshole--okay, maybe 5%. I know him. He has multiple mental/biological disorders that are NOW BEING TREATED. You "study these things" but obviously have no understanding of how said mental disorders affect behavior, judgement, and cognition.

Also, just because he has had headaches for "years" doesn't mean that they did not progressively get worse to the point where he could no longer live with it. Because that's exactly what happened. By saying that the GoFundMe is bullshit--which is ignorant because HR doesn't know how to use a computer or even what crowdfunding is--you're effectively accusing his wife of making up a sob story to steal money from his fans and sabotage Dr. Know. Seriously? That level of evil only happens in the movies.

And hey--Bad Brains knew what they were dealing with the whole time. They could have found another amazing singer, changed their name, and made millions. But no. So to blame HR for everyone being poor is the biggest bullshit victim story I've ever heard. People have choices.
Kevin of Parker said…
Dear anonymous (i that is even your real name!) from 11:38 pm. Thank you for your feedback. Respectfully, I disagree. Also, I think some of my points were lost in translation. I do not blame HR for the band being poor. Basically, I blame him for the band never getting the chance to be as great or successful as they could have been.

I am aware that HR has lots of health problems, and I don't doubt that. I also don't mean to denigrate the seriousness of his health problems. I can only imagine everyone around him only wants to help. However, I do question the timing, and still regard the timing of his campaign as kind of a dick move. We learned Dr Know was LITERALLY on his death bed, and needed money to continue care... and then HR's fund me page pops up less than a week later 'oh... hey bro. I need money, too'. So, while I don't see his go fund me page as bullshit, i DO see the timing as bullshit.

also understand that I write with all of this frustration because I feel they could have been, and maybe should have been... one of the greatest bands of all time.

if my tone comes off dismissive... know that I would not have labored so long on this piece... or answered every question. Also note that I freely publish all my criticism (and I admit, there is a lot). I could easily scrub the comments to only leave the nice ones. I very much enjoy the discussion, and the give and take.

when I think of Bad Brains... I think of the word 'squandered'... like what could Guns and Roses have done if Axl didn't fire everyone and disappear for 15 years? What could the Doors have done if Jim cleaned himself up and came back from Paris.

thank you all for reading, even if its because you think I am an insensitive prick making fun of random helpless celebs.
JoJo B from the DMV said…
Prayers out to HR. He's old and I just cannot find it in me to hate someone who changed my musical destiny. Im also sorry to those who got burned going to those shows. It must suck. I do want to clarify one thing about the live recordings. They are out they're. The person who posted the article seems to be really into the I against I album. Well, there is a live album after it was released thats crucial! Truly captures the greatness of the band from Darrells pounding bass, Dr Knows screaming guitar, to HR's incomparable vocals nailing every line. Most genius's have some either weird quirks or mental issues. HR was truly a musical genius vocally and lyrically. There's never been anyone like him and never will. I say all that but can admit one of my favorite albums was Quickness. It would also be, in my opinion, the last album I would like. Some things do need to come to an end and anything after Quickness wasn't really to taste. I recently saw the documentary though and I would most definitely go see them live regardless of HR. The band is that damn good! What I saw in the doc was Darrell pounding the shit bejesus out of the bass laying it in thick and Dr Know & Earl following suit. HR can do what he wants but that band still brings down the walls with or without him and I truly hope they give it one more go. It may be a crazy shit show but I love my favorite band of all time!
Kathryn Carter said…
Whether you're a mother, father, sibling or friend with schizophrenia, or someone suffering from the disorder yourself, my daughter's story should inspire others for future. My daughter spent most of her teenager and twenties struggling with mental health (schizophrenia). She faced discrimination because of her illness too. But it’s a myth that people who have schizophrenia have no chance of permanent survival, hence, they can’t do great things and achieve their dreams/goal. Especially, with family love and support of others. I am personally sharing this for the sake of patients who are passing through pains and frustrations. Our breakthrough, achievement and success is credited to an herbal medicine called CONSUMMO, because there has been in the past too much pessimism and bad news about the illness, that it is incurable. Have a look here: http://curetoschizophrenia.blogspot.com . My daughter is back and permanently heal without any schizophrenia symptoms. Mental illnesses are a curse upon human kind, only those with mental disorders truly understand.

Popular Posts