Junk rock

George Gimarc and an ex-Pistol make for some Rotten Television

George Gimarc has spent a lifetime collecting and cataloging and preserving rock and roll's past--first as a radio-show host, then as an author of three books. The front room of his Garland home is the product of a life spent trolling record stores, diving into radio-station dumpsters, hoarding old tapes and vinyl and acetate long abandoned to the dung-heap of history. Dozens of shelves contain thousands of old singles and albums and tapes from bands that came and went before anyone could even forget them. There is no such thing as a one-hit wonder in Gimarc's world, only bands that made their impact in private. He has records even the artists who recorded them don't know (or would prefer you don't know) exist: One of his more recent finds is a single recorded by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day when he was just a child, a religious song the punk hero prefers be kept hidden forever. But nothing remains secret forever, not when Gimarc is around to protect the past.

Nobody simply visits George Gimarc's house, coming over for a brief stay, because Gimarc inevitably has some new find to play for you. Today, he pulls out a B-side of a Frankie Avalon single recorded in the early 1960s that features some of the most freaky, fuzzed-out guitar heard this side of the Yardbirds. Only it was recorded before the Yardbirds, Gimarc points out, giddy at the revelation. "How cool is that?" he says, no doubt the first person ever to notice such a vanished moment.

So it is perhaps a bit surprising to discover that Gimarc is currently in business with an icon who would prefer to literally set fire to rock's past--the very man who insisted there was nooooooo fyuuuuuuu-cha! 20 years ago and has spent the rest of the time proving himself right.

Indeed, there are no two more unlikely business partners than George Gimarc and John Lydon, the once-and-future Johnny Rotten whose Sex Pistols destroyed and defined rock and roll for one brief, glorious, ridiculous moment. After all, Gimarc has devoted his life to honoring the past, and Rotten has devoted his to shitting all over it. "I am anti-nostalgia," Rotten explains during the television show he and Gimarc have created. "No monuments to rock and roll."

Indeed, at the end of the pilot for the made-for-VH1 television show, Johnny stands in front of a beach bonfire gleefully throwing into the flames old Pistols collectibles worth a small fortune. There's the original 45 single of "God Save the Queen" on A&M Records (worth $3,000), an originals Pistols tour poster, and a handwritten note from his old bandmate Sid Vicious about girlfriend Nancy Spungeon that reads, in part, "We had a death pact...I had to keep my part of the bargain." Rotten tears the note from its frame and throws it into the fire, sneering, "Let's cremate Sid, shall we? Good bye, Sidney." He shoots a mischievous look into the camera, one that says, Good riddance and screw you.

Gimarc, as co-writer and co-creator of Rotten Television, knows this is good television--the splendid, defiant segment called "Change the Century" that will feature Rotten demolishing precious mementos each week. But the collector side of Gimarc--the guy who has written two history-of-punk books, the guy who hosts The Lost Tapes from 10 p.m. to midnight each Saturday on KRLD-AM (1080) and digs up the most obscure, ancient nugget he can find--cringes as Rotten tossed the priceless gems into the fire.

"That's a $3,000 single, and I've never owned one, and here's John with the tongs tossing it into the fire--and I'm at the sidelines applauding," Gimarc says, smiling at the recollection. "John actually thinks it's very funny that I collect all this stuff, but on the other hand, he knows the value of it, because he knows I know where the skeletons are buried."

Rotten Television exists right now only in pilot form: It likely will not debut on VH1 until February, when it is scheduled to appear as a special; according to Stacy Staner, VH1 publicist, the show will "possibly" become part of the music channel's regular schedule in late spring. But even in its pilot form, it's a wonderful piece of television: a bit shaky perhaps, but smirky and funny--or just what one might imagine from Rotten, the crankiest contrarian ever to stand in front of a microphone.

The pilot opens with Rotten frolicking (that's right--frolicking) along the beach in brighter-than-sunlight togs and a multicolored umbrella hat--or just the very opposite of what you might expect from the ex- Pistol. (It's an up-yours, Gimarc says, to the punk-poseurs out there--what Rotten calls "The Sidneys"--who still think it's 1978.) The opening montage also features footage of the Pistols performing and an old quote from Rotten about how "you thought you'd gotten rid of us."

Then Rotten appears in front of a bunch of video monitors, looking very much like your average VJ, though Gimarc says the backdrop will disappear when the first episode airs in February. Rotten promises his show will "change the way you watch...music television," that there will be no "dreadful" celebrity interviews and only one or two "lousy music videos." He tells the audience (OK, the test audience--who, by the way, loved the program), "You might have heard of me. Nothing's beneath my contempt." Then, unfortunately, he goes right into one of those dreadful celebrity interviews--with Jon Lovitz, who's in no mood to talk, since the interview occurred just after the murder of his good friend Phil Hartman. Rotten's first question? "Tell us about The Wedding Singer." This from the man who promises, "Boredom will not be tolerated." The only highlight of this abbreviated segment is that Rotten walks off and sticks Lovitz with the lunch check, much to Lovitz's chagrin. ("Holy shit," he utters.)

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