In early 1979, I was living in Bloomington, fronting a band called the Gizmos. We may have been the first punk rock band in the state. I know for a fact we were the first in Bloomington — and man was it lonely!
At the time, almost no one at IU took the Ramones or Sex Pistols seriously, let alone the Gizmos. We were either reviled as incompetent, tolerated as a novelty act or, most often and worst of all, completely ignored.
One Saturday night, we were playing a gig at a combination pizza joint/country bar called the Bassaloon — just about the only club in town that ever booked us more than once (and they stopped at twice). Midway through our first set, a couple guys came in and sat in a booth. The fact that we didn’t immediately recognize them from among our handful of fans was in itself curious.
One had longish shaggy hair, the other sported a punky buzzcut — another red flag: No one (but us) wore their hair that short. After a while, they got up and started dancing — as I remember it now, very loopy, self-absorbed dancing, sort of the way the Peanuts characters dance (or would if they took drugs). Eventually they introduced themselves.
They were Greg Horn and Chris Clark, a couple of Purdue students who had read about the Gizmos and were curious enough to drive two hours to check us out. Before heading back, they gave us a cassette of their own band, Dow Jones and the Industrials. We played it when we got home and were floored.
Clearly, they leaned a lot more toward the Pere Ubu end of the new-wave spectrum than we did — treated effects and synthesizer fills abounded. But there was plenty of raw guitar, too, and the songs themselves were knockouts: short, modern, sharp, funny, angry — and they rocked.
The first song on the tape was called “Rocking Farmers” and came across like a snottier Talking Heads. Opening with a slow loping bass riff (and some barnyard noises), the song began as a tribute to the Great American Farmer, but soon turned into a rant about how torturous it was attending the Midwest’s largest agricultural college. The “rocking” of the title turned out to be a stand-in for “fucking,” as in “Somebody needs to be the Future Farmers / But keep ’em all away from me, they’re boring rocking farmers.”
Everything on the tape (which included stripped-down versions of songs that would eventually surface on the Hoosier Hysteria LP) was good, but it was the second song that totally hooked us. “It Ain’t Good Enough” was a roaring piece of pop-punk, fueled by a chugging rhythm guitar and an off-the-deep-end lead.
It had one of those melodies that sound at once totally modern and like it’s been around longer than Chuck Berry. Greg Horn’s vocal was one long extended squawk. The line, “Hey over there, are you receiving me?” was effectively reduced to its vowel sounds. It was the only song on the tape that the Gizmos could conceivably have written and we sure wished we had.
We immediately recognized kindred spirits. In the Gizmos, we tried to write about our immediate environment. (For instance, we had a song about how stupid the local music scene was, which we entitled “Duke Tomato.”) The Industrials did the same, targeting not just ag students, but also spacey science majors (“Dude in the Direction Field”) and the shallowness of the campus Greek scene (“Hold That Coed,” “I Want a Pi Phi”).
But what came through loudest and clearest was that Dow Jones were just as bored and fed up with modern life as we were. Nearly everything just then — television, fashion, chain stores, advertising, career paths, popular music most of all — seemed so drab and contemptible. And like the Gizmos, Dow Jones and the Industrials had decided to take matters into their own hands.
Soon after that night, we made our own pilgrimage to West Lafayette to check out the band live — and found Chris Clark surreally employed as the houseboy at a Purdue sorority. We met the other two Industrials: synth-player Brad Garton (who went by the name Mr. Science and wore a white labcoat onstage) and drummer Tim North (who seemed relatively normal).
The show, a do-it-yourself job staged in the basement of a downtown hotel, drew surprisingly well (especially compared to what we were used to in Bloomington) and inspired much wild dancing and revelry. At one point, the show was interrupted as (we later learned) a teen-aged Axl Rose was discovered trashing the men’s room and escorted from the premises.
The Industrials were amazing live, perhaps not as raw as the Gizmos but absolutely as noisy. Left-field rockers like “Set Yourself On Fire” and “Dude in the Direction Field” came fully alive onstage, their gnarled guitar riffs competing for space with the drums, feedback and constant synth barrage.
The band’s crowded stage-set included several mannequins (snagged from Clark’s father’s clothing store), a TV set permanently tuned to static and “the Dude”: a life-size stand-up of a debonair young gentleman in suit and tie, enjoying a cigarette. They also had a live secretary seated to one side of the stage at a desk, typing away throughout the show.
Horn looked rock-star cool, Garton geeky, North manic. But it was Chris Clark (aka Dow Jones) who was the visual centerpiece of the band. Six-foot-one, wide-eyed and rail-thin, his expression always suggested someone who couldn’t quite believe this was happening to him, like a 6-year-old at a surprise party. (Plus, he was always wearing really striking white bucks or saddle shoes: another perk from Dad.)
We became friends, started playing together, traded hometown gigs. The Gizmos began recording with Mr. Science at his home studio (still in business today as Zounds), eventually compiling enough tracks to share a split-album with DJI (Hoosier Hysteria, 1980, Technological Fun/Gulcher). An opportunity to open for the Ramones in November helped broaden our fanbase.
That same winter, Chris Clark ran for president of the Purdue Student Association, promising yearly random roommate assignments (for both on- and off-campus housing), florescent pink and green uniforms for the football team and that Mackey Arena would be tipped upside-down and turned into the world’s largest bowl of cornflakes.
He pledged to move the Purdue campus to Florida and threatened to spike Lafayette’s water supply with LSD if he wasn’t elected. Though it began as a joke, a band publicity stunt, to everyone’s amazement, he won in a landslide in the biggest voter turnout in years.
Does the Midwest suck?
In January 1980, the 2147 Club opened in Indianapolis. Located at 2147 Talbott (in the building now housing the Talbott Street nightclub), it was Indy’s first attempt at a base for the growing local new-music scene, somewhere the punks could call home. (It lasted about six months.)
The Gizmos and Dow Jones were asked to co-headline the opening weekend. It was a blast.
We were all gobbling handfuls of speed (obsessed as we were just then with the film Quadrophenia) and enjoying being paid attention to for once. About half an hour into the Gizmos’ second set, the police showed up and shut everything down. At least one fan was handcuffed and arrested (exactly what for no one can quite remember), accompanied by an a cappella “I Fought the Law” from Gizmo bassist Billy Nightshade. It felt very rock and roll.
Around that same time, DJI debuted a new song called “Can’t Stand the Midwest.” It was great, funny, right on and all that. But the Gizmos had always been rather proud of their boring Hoosier heritage — one of our earliest songs was called “Rock & Roll Don’t Come From New York.” The Dow song inspired us to come up with our own “answer tune” — “The Midwest Can Be Allright” — which eventually became our last-released recording.
Ironically, it was also just then that the Gizmos were deciding to abandon their beloved Midwest, to try our luck in New York City. Our final Bloomington club date was that April at Oscar’s (now Axis), with the Industrials in support. As a going-away present, they wrote a song especially for the occasion, called “Let’s Listen to the Gizmos and Fuck.” We were touched.
Of course, the move to New York proved futile and the Gizmos broke up about a year later. Dow Jones and the Industrials hung on for about as long, briefly becoming an Indy club fixture and inspiring bands like the Jetsons, Amoebas in Chaos and Last Four Digits. One person whose life was permanently turned around by seeing the band was 16-year-old Paul Mahern.
“Up to then,” he remembers, “the only rock shows I’d seen were big stadium concerts — Blondie, Cheap Trick, AC/DC. So to me, the whole rock star thing seemed really out of reach: Bands always came from somewhere else and played places like Market Square Arena. When I saw Dow Jones and the Industrials, I was amazed. I thought they were the greatest band in the world. Even though they were playing to 50 people at Third Base on a stage 6 inches off the floor, to me they were completely on a par with AC/DC or Kiss or whoever. That’s really when I started thinking in terms of rock and roll on a local level being where it’s at.”
Within months, Mahern formed the Zero Boys. For two years, Dow Jones and the Industrials were an absolute phenomenon in West Lafayette. To the rest of us, stuck in Indianapolis and Bloomington, they were a great and timely rock and roll band. They definitely stood apart from their peers. A big part of their persona — the love/hate relationship they had with technology — was something you instantly recognized and understood, without ever being able to quite pin down. Like the Gizmos, the Zero Boys, the Panics and a few others, they made a huge noise, a great big Something out of the Nothing that there was to work with in Indiana in the late 1970s.